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Postcard exhibition offers greetings from an exotic past

Postcard sent from Japan in 1910 (picture: ethnographic museum)

The golden age of travel is being recalled by an exhibition in Zurich of postcards sent from exotic destinations between the end of the 19th century and the 1930s.

At one time, postcards were an essential means of communication for travellers and before the advent of magazines and television were often the only means of providing friends and relatives back home with illustrations of the places they visited.

Zurich University's ethnographic museum has a major permanent collection of such cards, hundreds of which are on display there until October 21.

They provide a picture of foreign travel long before it became a mass market, and of a world which has changed beyond recognition.

For example, during the colonial era, cards illustrated such subjects as "nomads in the desert", "native women building their hut" and "hunting the crocodile" with an attitude which today would be regarded as patronising.

Stereotypes abounded: men were usually portrayed as aggressive and primitive warriors, while women tended to be photographed either as mothers or as erotic objects.

But behind the clichés, the cards provide a rich source of ethnographic information. One of the exhibition's organisers, Susanna Kumschick, believes their rehabilitation as a source of research is long overdue.

"Because so many were sent during the period covered by the exhibition," she told swissinfo, "post cards are often the only documents to have survived."

swissinfo


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