Have you seen the statue at the entrance of the Hagenbeck Tierpark in Hamburg? It depicts a black man climbing on a giraffe’s neck and standing on a busy street since 2001. This statue has sparked heated discussions and debates about representation and cultural sensitivity in public spaces.
“A black man climbs high on the neck of a giraffe; a giraffe with a black man sitting on its neck”. This is precisely what the politician and district MP Peter Gutzeit from the Left Party in Eimsbüttel Hamburg, Germany, has criticised. For him, and many Africans, the statue is a representation of everyday racism in Germany.
A very strong argument that is firing the furore about the well-known sculpture from Hagenbeck’s zoo lies in its 19th Century history. Hagenbeck Tierpark is infamous for its ethnological shows. During the Nazi era, a giraffe stood as a symbol for the zoo on this same site, and now there is a black man on the giraffe on the same spot. Gutzeit refers to the ethnological shows that took place in Hagenbeck’s zoo between 1870 and 1940. For 100 years ago, Hamburgers could not only admire exotic animal species here but equally, people from foreign cultures were exhibited as shows. Against the background of this history and the current anti-racism movement worldwide, the question arises: Is the dark-skinned man on the neck of the Hagenbeck giraffe appropriate? Apparently, intercultural sensitisation is lacking at the Ministry of Culture, as the accusations about the dark-skinned statue are not yet an issue for them.
Let’s spark a conversation about representation and sensitivity in public spaces. The statue at the entrance of the Hagenbeck Tierpark in Hamburg, Germany, depicting “a black man climbing on the neck of a giraffe”, has sparked discussions and debates about the historical context and contemporary interpretations of such works of art.
Human zoos, also known as ethnological expositions, were public displays of people, usually in a so-called “natural” or “primitive” state. They were most prominent during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Carl Hagenbeck (June 10 1844 – April 14 1913) was a German merchant of wild animals who supplied many European zoos and P. T. Barnum. He created the modern zoo with animal enclosures without bars that were closer to their natural habitat. The transformation of the zoo architecture he initiated is known as the Hagenbeck revolution. Hagenbeck founded Germany’s most successful privately owned zoo, the Tierpark Hagenbeck, which moved to its present location in Hamburg’s Stellingen district in 1907. He was also an ethnography showman and a pioneer in displaying humans next to animals in human zoos.
?As our society becomes increasingly aware of cultural appropriation, racism and sensitivity, it’s important to engage in ongoing dialogue and reflection about how we depict and commemorate our history. The public opinion on this statue is a reminder that representation and cultural sensitivity should be at the forefront of our considerations when creating and displaying works of art in public spaces.
?Let us continue to raise awareness and endeavour to be more understanding and respectful of the different perspectives and experiences of all people. Only through open and honest conversations can we create a more inclusive and respectful society for all.
?In our global village we need to see beyond our horizons. We must continue to engage in open and honest conversations about representation and cultural sensitivity in public spaces. The campaign against ethnic discrimination is also a campaign against ignorance and insensibility about the feelings and perceptions of other cultures around us. We must strive for greater understanding and respect for the diverse perspectives and experiences of all people. Let us join hands today, in creating a more empathic, inclusive and respectful world for everyone.
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