Chokri Ben Chikha, performance artist and historian, spent four years of research on colonial environments on World Exhibitions, especially on the World Exhibition of Ghent (Belgium) in 1913. In Ghent, villages with natives from the Philippines and Senegal were exhibited. Eventually, a Filipino died from the cold climate, thus causing upheaval. The “authentic” villagers were actually on tour; they behaved, just as Barnum & Bailey’s did, as troupes of popular, “educational” entertainment. But they also constituted loci where colonial
relationships were performed. In April 2013, Chokri Ben Chikha and his brother Zouzou made a theatrical performance based upon Chokri’s research: De Waarheidscommissie or “truth commission.” They created this particular kind of commission in order to investigate the facts about what had happened during the Ghent World Fair of 1913, and contemporary cultural practices that presumably reproduced these hierarchical north-south relationships, willingly or not, such as postcolonial performance, and “orientalist” entertainment. This ‘truth commission’ and its witness stand included both experts and actors. They developed scenarios for judgment, compensation and reconciliation in contexts of historical and contemporary (neo)colonial misdemeanor. Finally, the audience was invited to decide about the best solution. What could be the epistemological plus-value of this performative treatment of past and present injustices? In different contexts, truth (and reconciliation) commissions have proven to play a crucial role in political transitions. The specific performative nature of these commissions was often decisive for their impact on these processes. This paper focuses on the question of whether or not, and to what degree, an artificial event, using artistic means, is able to enhance insights in these efforts of “truth & reconciliation,” especially when dealing with historical injustice.


Belgian imperialism, human zoo, performance studies, postcolonialism, transitional justice, truth & reconciliation, world exhibitions

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
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Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
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Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
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Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
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University of Cape Town (South Africa)
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University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
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University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)