Angelo Soliman: An African in Vienna
The latest temporary exhibition at the Vienna City Museum addresses the life of Angelo Soliman, former child slave, chamberlain, freemason and acquaintance of Mozart, tutor to the prince’s children and whose body after his death was stuffed and displayed in the Natural history museum as a “half-naked savage”, decorated with ostrich feathers and shells.
I haven’t yet seen the exhibition, but I have good reason to be excited. The Vienna City Museum has had temporary exhibitions before that deal with the immigrant presence in Vienna (for example: Gastarbejteri), but the permanent exhibition has at last count (roughly 4 months ago) one depiction of an African person in full feather regalia from an ‘exotic goods’ shop sign which also features the only appearance of an Asian person, representation of the significant Turkish community on Vienna is limited to paintings of the antagonists of the Battle of Vienna 1683 alongside instruments of battle and siege - a major disservice to the 70, 445 people of Turkish descent in this city - Jewish people are only mentioned in relation to their persecution (pre-Holocaust, the permanent exhibition stops around the outbreak of WWI with Klimt and Schiele) and are neither depicted nor objects displayed to demonstrate their presence… the list goes on.
Whilst this is again a temporary exhibition, the museum is currently in the process of redesigning the permanent exhibition and I sincerely hope that the research and reaction to the Soliman exhibition and Gastarbejteri will become permanent elements. Also exciting about the new exhibition is the challenging special events that are taking place as part of the events programme (pdf). My calendar is already marked with events ranging from museological discussion of the ethics of displaying human remains, to tours of the city highlighting the African presence in Vienna over centuries, and discussions about the changing attitudes towards the African community held together with African groups. And I intend to go and take part in lots of these events, so expect to be hearing more about this exhibition and the accompanying programme in the future!