Society for the Anthropology of Europe
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In mid-19th century, Iceland’s small population under Danish rule tried to establish itself as a part of Europe’s "civilized" population. Production of racist texts and images that emphasized Iceland’s natural place with “progressive” European nation reflects Iceland’s relationship with colonialism and the anxieties of being categorized with colonized others. My paper focuses on plaster casts of Icelandic bodies which were a part of collections meant to showcase racial diversity in late 19th century in France and Spain, as well as the affective afterlife of these plaster casts in the present as relating to the ‘after-effects of colonialism’ (Colpani and Ponzanesi 2016). Plaster casts, resulting from intimate contacts, constitute a particular kind of “contact zones”. What do these casts of Icelandic people say in the present about the making of European bodies as ‘white’ bodies? What kinds of transnational stories are hidden behind the faces of individuals from different parts of the world in these collections – faces that often express strong emotions in spite of the individuals long gone? What kind of uneasy intervention do these collections bring into the present, where racism is regularly proclaimed as gone or irrelevant (Goldberg 2009; Lentin 2014), and Europe as under siege by “outsiders”? (Vacchiano 2013). Can such collections be used to destabilize the object that they were largely meant to represent?