Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene

Workshop IV: Exhibition – Curation – Decolonization

Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene
Workshop 4: Exhibition – Curation – Decolonization
10–12 November, 2021
Utrecht University, Netherlands
[Online via Zoom]

The fourth installment in the ongoing Reading Zoos series considers the interrelationship between the zoological garden and the natural history museum as twin institutions of the Anthropocene. Some of the questions we will be exploring include: How are zoos and museums telling that story and reflecting on their own implication in it? And what role can literature, art, and culture play in reading and writing the zoo and the natural history museum “otherwise” so as not simply to repeat or endorse the established, monolithic Anthropocene narrative of Man? What alternative (hi)stories of the Anthropocene and its institutions are there, and where and how are they being told? How are artists, writers, curators, and others reimagining these spaces from a feminist, decolonial, and non-anthropocentric way?

Workshop Programme

Wednesday 12 November 2021

12.30–13.00* Welcome & Introductions

13.00–14.30 SESSION 1: The Cage and/as the Stage I: Brutal Aesthetics
Gail Pini (University of Queensland) | Marcela Hernández (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main)


  • Materials relating to the “Afrikahaus” at the Zurich Zoo
  • “Baignade de nègres,” dir. Brothers Lumière (1896)
  • Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, dir. F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty (1931)

14.30–14.45 Break

14.45–16.45 SESSION 2: Modalities of Care I: Curiosity and Curation
Wessel Broekhuis (Amsterdam) | Thera Naiman (Johns Hopkins University) | Niharika Dinkar (Boise State University)

  • Wessel Broekhuis, “‘Animals brought from every part of the globe’ – Zoological Societies and Colonialism during the Nineteenth Century”
  • G. Goucher, L. Vaillant, et al., “Elements of Instruction for Traveling Naturalists” (1881)
  • Alphonse Milne-Edwards, “Instructions for the officers who would like to curate natural history collections destined for the Muséum” (ca. 1890)
  • Niharika Dinkar, “Seeing the Elephant: Animal Spectatorship and the Imperial Gaze”

16.45–17.15 Break

17.15–19.00 KEYNOTE 1: “A Zoo and Its Public: The Short Life and Slow Decline of a Colonial Menagerie”
Louise Green (Stellenbosch University, South Africa)

In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the Groote Schuur Zoo, formerly known as Rhodes Menagerie, lies derelict. Bars have been taken away to be sold as scrap metal, walls have been partially knocked down and nature has reclaimed the paths and enclosures. Situated between Table Mountain and the busy M3 freeway, it has been overtaken by local and imported species of plants and animals, wild grasses and oak trees, puff adders and gray squirrels. The contours of the carefully planned space are blurred by overgrowth and fallen leaves. What, if anything, can this strange relic of the colonial past signify about zoos in the age of the Anthropocene? Mimicking the logic of the zoo, this talk takes the form of series of adjacent enclosures that bring together anecdote, history, news report, photography and fiction to explore the way the animals gathered at this site, and the people who gathered them, all long since dead, can be read as a form of prehistory of zoo making in the present moment of crisis and revision.

Thursday 11 November

12.30–14.30 SESSION 3: Hybrid Bodies I: Still Lives
Anne Hölck (Berlin) | Pauw Vos (UU) | Calista McRae (NJIT)

  • Jacques de Sève, “L’Hoppopotame,” copper engraving, in Georges-Louis Leclerc comte de Buffon, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. Avec la déscription du cabinet du roi, vol. XII (Paris 1764), p. 68.
  • Hörner/Antlfinger, “Five Conversations with Taxidermied Animals” (8th June, first attempt, 2017)
  • Photography & Taxidermy by Paul Louis Steenhuizen
  • Lucie Brock-Broido, “Giraffe,” The New Yorker March 26, 2018

14.30–14.45 Break

14.45–16.45 SESSION 4: Modalities of Care II: Nature and Nurture
Anastassiya Andrianova (North Dakota State University) | Laura Gelfand (Utah State University) | Margaret Hanson (UC Riverside)

  • Robert Neubecker, Linus the Vegetarian T. Rex (2013) [excerpts]
  • Laura D. Gelfand, “Seeing and/or Saving Wolves in Zoos, Sanctuaries, Safaris, and Dioramas”
  • “Mother Wanted for 4 Lions.” Chicago Daily Tribune. August 21, 1908.
  • “Dog Mothers Lion Whelps.” Chicago Daily Tribune. August 22, 1908.
  • “Lioness Abandons Her Cubs; Collie Sought to Be Nurse.” Chicago Daily Tribune. September 17, 1911.

16.45–17.15 Break

17.15–19.00 KEYNOTE 2: “Notes Towards a Cosmopolitical Museology, in and around the Sarawak Museum”
Ayesha Keshani (Goldsmiths, University of London)

The legacy of the Sarawak Museum (East Malaysia) is as convoluted as Sarawak’s colonial history. While its natural history galleries bear the hallmarks of an archetypal colonial-era institution, throughout the Museum’s history, quietly disruptive curatorial practices have challenged the universalising ambitions of modernity/coloniality in relation to nature. These fleeting interventions engaged the agency of other-than-human beings and indigenous ecologies of practice, foregrounded opacity and divergence, and often revealed the ambivalent complicity of the colonial Museum itself. In thinking through the possibilities of cosmopolitical museology, this presentation threads together fragments of stories from the Museum’s galleries and archives, and from my wider art-research practice in Sarawak. Amidst postcolonial Malaysia’s economic reliance on extractivism and monoculture plantations, these stories trace multiple natures and fugitive practices to explore the frictions between coloniality, museum nature and cosmos.

Friday 12 November

12.30–14.00 SESSION 5: Hybrid Bodies II: Embodied Subjectivities
Concepción Cortés Zulueta (Málaga) | Soojin Chang (Goldsmiths)

14.00–14.15 Break

14.14–15.45 SESSION 5: The Cage and/as the Stage II: (Un)Chained Wilderness
Matthew Chrulew (Curtin University) | Andrew Westoll (U of Toronto, Scarborough)

  • Vera Hegi [pseud. Henri & Émilie Ellenberger], The Captives at the Zoo: Recollections of a Zookeeper, trans. Anna-Katharina Laboissière (1949/2014) [excerpts]
  • Andrew Westoll, “People of the Forest,” excerpt from The Zoo and You [forthcoming]

15.45–16.00 Break

16.00–16.30 Concluding discussion & Future Plans

* all times are CET (GMT +1)