press release

The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona presents the exhibition The European Savage from 17 February to 23 May 2004. The show is the product of theses developed by the anthropologist Roger Bartra in his books The Artificial Savage: Modern Myths of the Wild Man (1997) and Wild Men in the Looking Glass: Mythic Origins of European Otherness (1992) and the writer Pilar Pedraza in La bella, enigma y pesadilla (Tusquets) and Máquinas de amar (Valdemar). The CCCB has invited these two intellectuals to curate the exhibition we present.

Although for some time now we have associated the term savage with non-Western primitive people, the concept is a European creation of Greek origin that applied the term to individuals who did not fit into civilised society: brutal, primitive, threatening and dangerous beings who lived very near, but outside the polis and its regulations.

The concept of European savage has changed over time. The Greek savage was an ambiguous creature, half human, half animal, related to the gods (the centaur, satyr, Cyclops) who lived in nature and was without conquering pretensions, unlike the Barbarians. In the Middle Ages, the savages became wild men and hermits, covered with hair. With the conquest of the Americas, entire peoples fell victim to this commonplace, which erased their human characteristics and made them hard to identify. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the advances of science and a greater knowledge of the body and mind, the savage slipped through the internal chinks of Western consciousness. Then it became the ‘savage within’: the part of ourselves that we do not recognise, the unknown monster that lives inside us.

Today, the savage embodies the individual who lives among us but responds to an otherness that we cannot quite assimilate, the Other who threatens our way of life (down-and-outs, the underprivileged class, emigrants, urban tribes, etc.).

The exhibition presented by the CCCB looks at the iconographical representation of the figure of the European savage in art: Ribera, Goya and Buñuel; Dürer, Mantegna and Bocklin; Salvatore Rosa, Gustave Moreau and Cindy Sherman; Swift, the Marvel ‘factory’ and George F. Watts... And in all of its forms: satyrs and centaurs, hermits and wild men, witches and yahoos, elephant men and bearded ladies and popular heroes like Tarzan and the Panther Woman.

The exhibition is divided into eight parts:

1.- Between man and beast The ancient Greco-Latin and Judaeo-Christian traditions come together in the figure of the Medieval and Renaissance homo sylvestris. This savage figure forms part of a different, parallel humanity, not related to Adam and Eve. Its origins does not lie in original sin and therefore the inhabitants of the wilds do not know shame, their sexual instincts are uninhibited and they go around unclothed. 2.- The tragicomedy of the wild man The violent, aggressive savage becomes a kind and noble character, integrated into peaceful family life. 3.- The savage tamed Towards the end of the Middle Ages, wild men began to be tamed. The ferocious being became a symbol of idyllic life, a creature who lives in harmony with nature. A veil of pastoral, rustic felicity conceals the savage as an unbridled erotic force, as natural violence unleashed and as a dangerous crack in cosmic order through which chaos may come pouring out. 4.- God’s savage Christianity absorbed the pagan idea of the savage and assimilated it into the old religious tradition. With a view to proving the force of their faith, Christians would take on wild nature, full of temptations and perils. During their trial, they would sometimes become wild saints who lived naked in the desert, their bodies covered in hair. 5.- From the traditional to the modern savage Modern times gave fresh impetus to the myth of the wild man, turning him into a fundamental myth of the colonial age and industrial society. The philosopher of Hobbes or Rousseau projected wild men onto the stage of modern thought. Swift and Defoe’s narratives created unforgettable wild characters: the yahoos and Robinson Crusoe. More than ever, modern society needed the contrast of savage otherness to reaffirm the identity of the Western ego. 6.- Spectacle and illness Untamed nature sometimes invades culture in the form of illness. The beings produced by this intrusion are seen as monsters worthy of admiration and exhibition: dwarves, bearded ladies, giants, half men-half beasts and savage children. 7.- The wild woman Modernity has imagined gaps in the weave of civilisation through which the wild forces of nature seep. These cracks often produce female characters – animal tendencies were seen to find woman’s weakness easier to overcome. Hence the myth of the wild woman, in all her glory. 8.- The savage within With time, the savage has made his way into the inner chinks of Western consciousness, from which he could appear at any moment, in peace as well as at war. The placid gaze of a nobleman may conceal a vampire. Menacing ogres make their way into stories for innocent children. A little alcohol can turn an urban woman into a tramp who does not look after her children. A beautiful young foreign woman can become an aggressive feline. An inquisitive scientist invokes his savage other self.

only in german

The European savage
Kuratoren: Roger Bartra and Pilar Pedraza
Produktion: CCCB

mit Werken von José de Ribera, Francisco de Goya, Albrecht Dürer, Andrea Mantegna Arnold Böcklin, Salvator Rosa, Gustave Moreau, Cindy Sherman ...