Telling Uneasy Stories: El Negro of Banyoles #3

 

We start this weekend with a continuation of our discussion about El Negro.

Since El Negro’s display was of a dead body I will at this juncture expand the notion of hybridity we spoke about last week. I think we can expand the notion from binary form to include another element. That is to say, El Negro was consumed as part man, part animal and part inanimate object. The depersonalized consumption of El Negro’s nameless and lifeless body right away presented him as an inanimate artefact. A stiff lifeless cadaver in a glass case easily takes on the quality of a freestanding sculpture that can be viewed from all angles. The placement of El Negro’s body in a glass box preserves him like a collected souvenir. Like any other souvenir his body can only be consumed with an accompanying narrative (already discussed in previous post) or it is not entertainment.

At the same time that the inhumanity of El Negro is emphasized when we consider this three-way hybridity, we also find a tense paradox in the way that Banyoles thought of him: they dehumanized him but “loved” him. This “love” however never sparked the thought that he might be fit for a decent burial like a human being. Georgina Gratacos, curator of the Banyoles museum inquestion still opines “that the body should have stayed where it was [in Banyoles]…It was not racist, it was simply an exhibition that testified to the mentality of Europeans at the beginning of the century when this kind of [violent] thing was quite common.”

I am confused and perhaps readers of BlackLooks can help me unpack this “love.”

Moving on, if  history is what we collectively – actively or tacitly – agree did happen then omission ensures that at some pointcertain events will never have happened. Since narratives last for centuries, it is unsurprising that in the 21st century
the President of one of the most powerful European countries still negates the African’s humanity for it has been omitted for too long in the stories that Europe tells itself about its colonial history in Africa: that humanity has been erased in political Europe’s eyes. It is equally unsurprising that Georgina Gratacos laments the burial of her museum’s most entertaining human prop because the violence with which African men were forcibly sodomized and their freshly buried kings eviscerated for exhibition has been omitted for so long in such exhibitions as this one of El Negro and other spaces like literature.  This is my take and I would like to hear your views on this omission-and-therefore-attempted-erasure-of-humanity I speak of. No wonder influential people say, in 2012, that this was not a racist exhibition.

Have a lovely week, and we will continue our conversation next week.

Donald.