These photographs of anthropologists at work convey the discipline’s paternalistic self-image. They depict research that consisted of sorting humans by ethnicity and classifying them into a hierarchical system. The pictures seem to suggest that this work culminated in the “domestication” of “savages.” European scientists can be seen posing with the subjects of their research like fathers with their children—or perhaps hunters with their trophies?
1. Station Officer Winter with station boys, 1887-1930
2. A Watussi doing the high jump, Rwanda
German East Africa, 1907-1908
3. Albert von Le Coq (right) and Theodor Bartus with natives during a Turfan expedition organized by the Ethnology Museum in Berlin
Togo, after 1899
4. Solders packing human skulls in crates
Germany, after 1903
During the German-Herero War, the skulls of hanged and killed Herero were collected for the Institute of Pathology at Berlin University.
5. Welcoming the French Africa explorer Pierre de Brazza
Congo, after 1881
6. German hunter posing with a slain lion and African women
German East Africa, after 1899
8. Performance by young women in celebration of the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II
German Samoa, after 1900
9. Traveling "colonial style" on a sedan chair with hammock and sunscreen
Togo, after 1884
Allegorical representations of parts of the earth embody a tradition that extends back to antiquity. Personifications of foreign continents took up their characteristics and reveal ideas of unknown cultures held by people of earlier ages. Africa was most frequently symbolized by men and women with dark skin. The idea of exotic lands figured prominently in porcelain artwork. “Tamed savages” decked many festive tables.
Vienna, ca. 1741–1744
Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, Vienna
Brook Andrew’s work “Sexy and Dangerous” deals with both the difficult legacy colonialism left behind in Australia and the tensions still palpable today between the aboriginal and immigrant populations. The work is based on an ethnographic postcard that has been digitally edited by the artist. The title Sexy and Dangerous plays with the clichéd notion of the sexual potency of “savages,” who are both feared and desired.
Brook Andrew (b. 1970), Sydney, 1996
Digital image printed on duraclear, mounted on clear acrylic
Courtesy of Tollarno Galleries