Reconstruction as trope of cultural display. Rethinking the role of “living exhibitions”
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, a new and particularly widespread type of exhibition practice occurred all over the Western World, namely “living exhibitions”. They were characterized by the display of indigenous and exotic-looking peoples in zoological gardens, circuses, amusement parks, various industrial expositions, and major international expositions where representatives of indigenous and foreign peoples from all over the globe performed their everyday life in reconstructed settings. Entire milieus were recreated by bringing along dwellings, animals, objects, etc. Eventually this would also become the dominant trope of display in folkloric exhibitions. Nevertheless, the living exhibitions have not been regarded as influential to this development. Instead, the trope has most commonly been accredited to the Swedish folklorist Artur Hazelius. In this article, I stress the importance of situating his display techniques and museological ideals within a wider context, most importantly the living exhibitions. The emphasis will be on the display of Sámi.