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New Directions in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art Digital Seminar #3

New Directions in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art Digital Seminar #3

Date(s) - 08/10/2020
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

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New Directions in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art Digital Seminar #3

Dr Layachi El Habbouch is Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Cross-Cultural Translation and Decolonial Communication at Dhar El Mehraz Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Fes, Morocco. His main research fields, as an early career researcher, include circus studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, Cross-Cultural translation and decolonial Communication.

Moroccan Acrobats and British Children under Moorish Exhibition in Victorian Britain: Decolonizing Performance Studies

Moroccan acrobatic encounters with Victorian Britain had complex social repercussions and cultural ramifications on British discourses of national identity and racial difference. The growing fascination of British society with the ethnic spectacles and racial exhibitions of “Bedouin Arabs” and “Morocco Arabs” on the Victorian performance stage had multifaceted aftermaths on the social fabric and cultural landscape of the British Empire. Such “native” artistic spectacles were not simply ethnic exhibitions to perform racial hierarchies on the stage for the social consumption and cultural reproduction of nativity for white theatre and circus audiences; they were also social processes witnessing to the tangible fascination and concrete interaction of the British Victorians with the Moroccan performance art of acrobatics. Moroccan professional entertainments of acrobatics were fascinating for British children as sporty and artistic activities and empowering for their parents as trade careers and economic obligations. The Acrobats Bill (1872), the Dangerous Performances Bill (1879) and Hadj Ali Ben Mohamed’s apprenticeship of British children in his Moorish circus in Constantinople (1882) were complex legal and discursive consequences of Moroccan acrobatic encounters with Victorian Britain. Indeed, such discursive outcomes inscribe highly complex economic, legal and political implications of an oriental cultural trade, and transcribe social and cultural ramifications of a nomadic Moroccan military sport and performance art on British society. Reading these consequences as discursive practices can help with the illumination of the material and visual culture of Victorian Britain from the perspective of the Moroccan other enjoying a position of power and subverting, if not threatening the taxonomist worldview of the British Empire.

Unpredictably, the clarification of such complex performance and colonial encounters between Morocco and Britain offers ample possibilities for decolonizing the field of performance studies beyond the mainstream view of the classical performance art historian. By using a decolonial approach to the study of the hidden and forgotten history of Moroccan acrobatics as a performance art beyond borders, archival and epistemic forms of disobedience, against the Darwinian mindset of the age of collection in Victorian Britain, start to emerge as subversive voices of dissidence, opposition and will to emancipation.

The seminar will be hosted on Blackboard Collaborate:


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