OSLO – Displaying 80 people in a human zoo in Oslo’s most elegant park, two artists hope their “Congo Village” project will help erase what they say is Norwegians’ collective amnesia about racism.
Re-enacting a similar display from 1914, Lars Cuznor and Mohamed Ali Fadlabi say Norway, one of the richest nations in the world, with a reputation for tolerance, has only suppressed its intolerance.
The Congo Village — which 100 years ago displayed African tribes, attracting 1.4 million visitors over four months — will this time exhibit volunteers taking turns living on show in makeshift huts, resembling a traditional sub-Saharan village.
“Norwegians have been propagating this self-image of a post-racial society,” said Cuznor, a Swedish-Canadian national. “It’s great branding and it’s self-perpetuating, but it’s a false image.”
The government-funded display opened just before Norway celebrated the 200th anniversary of its constitution on Saturday, a day marked by parades all over the country.
“May 17 is the day you feel most foreign and it’s also when racism comes to the surface with debates about whether people have the right to wear their own costumes or display non-Norwegian flags,” Sudan-born Fadlabi said. “Norwegians felt superior in 1914, and they still do through their self-image of goodness.”
The display, costing 1.4 million crowns ($240,000), has touched off a fierce online debate about whether Norway really is as racist as the artists suggest. Cuznor says even the permits for their exhibition hint at the country’s intolerance because they cannot stay overnight so they do not attract the homeless or Roma people.
Norway was among the first countries to allow gay people to marry, and most polls show that three-quarters of the population support immigration and think newcomers are a positive for Norway.
Its image for tolerance was tested in 2011 when an anti-immigration gunman killed 77 people, mostly teenagers attending a summer camp on the island of Utoya.
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