The after-effects of mass atrocity – bodies and bones – struggle to be defined
within memorial projects. This article seeks to examine the politics at play in
displaying dead bodies to interrogate the role of materiality in efforts to
memorialise and raise awareness about on-going violences. It focusses on the
nexus between evidence, dignity, humanity and memory to explore bone display in
Rwanda. It then takes up two artistic projects that play on the materiality of
human remains after atrocity: the art of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who took
ashes from an urn at the Majdanek concentration camp and used them as the
material for his painting, and the One Million Bones Project, an installation
that exhibits ceramic bones to raise awareness about global violence. In
thinking about the intersections between human biomatter, art and politics, the
article seeks to raise questions about both production and consumption: how
bones and ashes of the dead are produced, and how they are consumed by viewers
when placed on display in a variety of ways.
John Harries, Linda Fibiger, Joan Smith, Tal Adler and Anna Szöke
This article will query the ethics of making and displaying photographs of human
remains. In particular, we will focus on the role of photography in constituting
human remains as specimens, and the centrality of the creation and circulation
of photographic images to the work of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology.
This work has increasingly become the object of ethical scrutiny, particularly
in the context of a (post)colonial politics of recognition in which indigenous
people seek to recover dominion over their looted material heritage, including
the remains of their dead. This ethical concern extends to the question of how
and under what circumstances we may display photographs of human remains.
Moreover, this is not just a matter of whether and when we should or should not
show photographs of the remains of the dead. It is a question of how these
images are composed and produced. Our discussion of the ethics of the image is,
therefore, indivisible from a consideration of the socio-technical process by
which the photographic image is produced, circulated and consumed.
I focus on two contemporary art installations in which Teresa Margolles employs
water used to wash corpses during autopsies. By running this water through a fog
machine or through air conditioners, these works incorporate bodily matter but
refuse to depict, identify or locate anybody (or any body) within it. Rather,
Margolles creates abstract works in which physical limits – whether of bodies or
of art works – dissolve into a state of indeterminacy. With that pervasive
distribution of corporeal matter, Margolles charts the dissolution of the
social, political and spatial borders that contain death from the public sphere.
In discussing these works, I consider Margolles’ practice in relation to the
social and aesthetic function of the morgue. Specifically, I consider how
Margolles turns the morgue inside out, opening it upon the city in order to
explore the inoperative distinctions between spaces of sociality and those of
death. In turn, I consider how Margolles places viewers in uneasy proximity to
mortality, bodily abjection and violence in order to illustrate the social,
political and aesthetic conditions by which bodies become unidentifiable. I
ultimately argue that her aesthetic strategies match her ethical aspirations to
reconsider relations to death, violence and loss within the social realm.
Atrocities that befell Ethiopia during the Dergue regime (1974–91) targeted both
the living and the dead. The dead were in fact at the centre of the Dergue’s
violence. Not only did the regime violate the corpses of its victims, but it
used them as a means to perpetrate violence against the living, the complexity
of which requires a critical investigation. This article aims at establishing,
from the study of Ethiopian law and practice, the factual and legal issues
pertinent to the Dergue’s violence involving the dead. It also examines the
efforts made to establish the truth about this particular form of violence as
well as the manner in which those responsible for it were prosecuted and
The Manchester Museum was based on the collections of the Manchester Natural History Society (MNHS). This chapter focuses on the networks that propelled specimens to the Museum, the politics of acquisition and the meanings of objects. For three decades from the mid-1890s, the Manchester Museum was at the quantitative peak of growth by donation, which reflected natural history museum acquisition in Europe and North America generally. The cultural economy of donation encompassed both nature and culture. The geographical and administrative peak of the British Empire was in the early twentieth century, which was reflected in the quantity and provenances of objects in British collections. The foundation stones of the Manchester Museum were laid as Gladstone's government hurled the nation into the 'scramble for Africa'. Many historical studies accordingly focus on the early colonial activity, and much of the literature is concerned with the nineteenth century.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book suggests the parallels between the emphasis on evolutionary zoology in the Manchester Museum and the development of neo-Darwinism in biology. Throughout their 'lives', museum objects were attributed varied meanings and values as collectors, curators and audiences encountered them in very different ways. Objects did not act in their own right, but rather material culture was acted upon and was a conduit for human intention. In tracing the meanings and processes the principal intention of the book is to understand the construction and development of disciplines and the boundaries between them. The political history of UK museums in the twentieth century promises to be fascinating. A twentieth-century history would provide a sorely-needed historical context for the post-colonial turn in museology, filling the gap between imperial sources and contemporary approaches.
This chapter presents a study of relationships between objects and people, and explores the construction of nature and culture in museums. The material culture upon which the disciplines were based could be arranged in an uninterrupted sequence of development that encompassed both nature and culture; the geological eras segued into prehistoric, historic and, finally, contemporary 'savage' cultures. William Boyd Dawkins shaped the collection at the inception of the Manchester Museum through his interest in cave deposits and particularly flints. The prehistorians approached archaeology as a taxonomic and chronological enterprise, using stratigraphical techniques to date and classify artefacts in evolutionary sequences. Roderick Urwick Sayce clarified the disciplinary divisions in the archaeological collections, as prehistoric archaeology was organised and staffed alongside ethnology. The professional identity of archaeological curators was consolidated by the formation of the Society of Museum Archaeologists in 1975, one of a series of specific bodies within the museum profession.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book reflects the central theme, how nature and culture are constructed, reinforced and differentiated with objects in museums. It looks at the history of the Manchester Museum through disciplinary construction and development. The book draws on the work of sociologists, anthropologists and historians of science who have studied the social lives of things. It explores the place of different collections in the administrative and spatial layout of the museum. The book is devoted to the story of the Society and its collections, the Victorian prologue to the main feature. It traces the development of the collection from a private cabinet to its grand neo-Grecian premises in the centre of industrialising Manchester. The book maps out the gradual unravelling of William Boyd Dawkins's continuous sequence within the Museum.
The chapter presents three narratives: the cultural cartography within the Museum; the relationship between the Museum and the rest of the University; and the status of the Museum profession. In presenting a unified view of nature linked by time and evolution, William Boyd Dawkins wanted to smooth over disciplinary boundaries within the natural sciences. Even the scientific areas that fulfilled the new 'green' environmental Zeitgeist privileged fieldwork rather than collection-based research. The chapter examines the shifting disciplinary boundaries within the natural history collections and between the Museum, the university, and the wider intellectual sphere. Material culture was employed in the physical space of the Museum to build disciplines and anchor communities of practice, whether academic, amateur or professional. New accommodation for the Museum was relegated to 'the University's plans for the future', and the natural history collections were dislocated from their cognate teaching departments.