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Deaths and politicised deaths in Buenos Aires’s refuse

The appearance of corpses in rubbish tips is not a recent phenomenon. In Argentina, tips have served not only as sites for the disposal of bodies but also as murder scenes. Many of these other bodies found in such places belong to individuals who have suffered violent deaths, which go on to become public issues, or else are ‘politicised deaths’. Focusing on two cases that have received differing degrees of social, political and media attention – Diego Duarte, a 15-year-old boy from a poor background who went waste-picking on an open dump and never came back, and Ángeles Rawson, a girl of 16 murdered in the middle-class neighbourhood of Colegiales, whose body was found in the same tip – this article deals with the social meanings of bodies that appear in landfills. In each case, there followed a series of events that placed a certain construction on the death – and, more importantly, the life – of the victim. Corpses, once recognised, become people, and through this process they are given new life. It is my contention that bodies in rubbish tips express – and configure – not only the limits of the social but also, in some cases, the limits of the human itself.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Burying the victims of Europe’s border in a Tunisian coastal town

The Mediterranean Sea has recently become the deadliest of borders for illegalised travellers. The victims of the European Union’s liquid border are also found near North African shores. The question of how and where to bury these unknown persons has recently come to the fore in Zarzis, a coastal town in south-east Tunisia. Everyone involved in these burials – the coastguards, doctors, Red Crescent volunteers, municipality employees – agree that what they are doing is ‘wrong’. It is neither dignified nor respectful to the dead, as the land used as a cemetery is an old waste dump, and customary attitudes towards the dead are difficult to realise. This article will first trace how this situation developed, despite the psychological discomfort of all those affected. It will then explore how the work of care and dignity emerges within this institutional chain, and what this may tell us about what constitutes the concept of the human.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Deposits, waste or ritual remnants?

Among the numerous human remains found in circular pits belonging to the fourth millennium BCE cultures north of the Alps, there are many examples of bodies laid in random (or unconventional) positions. Some of these remains in irregular configurations, interred alongside an individual in a conventional flexed position, can be considered as a ‘funerary accompaniment’. Other burials, of isolated individuals or multiple individuals buried in unconventional positions, suggest the existence of burial practices outside of the otherwise strict framework of funerary rites. The focus of this article is the evidence recently arising from excavation and anthropological studies from the Upper Rhine Plain (Michelsberg and Munzingen cultures). We assume that these bodies in unconventional positions were not dumped as trash, but that they were a part of the final act of a complex ritual. It is hypothesised that these bodies, interpreted here as ritual waste, were sacrificial victims, and a number of possible explanations, including ‘peripheral accompaniment’ or victims of acts of war, are debated.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The manifold materialities of human remains

In this article we explore the relational materiality of fragments of human cadavers used to produce DNA profiles of the unidentified dead at a forensic genetics police laboratory in Rio de Janeiro. Our point of departure is an apparently simple problem: how to discard already tested materials in order to open up physical space for incoming tissue samples. However, during our study we found that transforming human tissues and bone fragments into disposable trash requires a tremendous institutional investment of energy, involving negotiations with public health authorities, criminal courts and public burial grounds. The dilemma confronted by the forensic genetic lab suggests not only how some fragments are endowed with more personhood than others, but also how the very distinction between human remains and trash depends on a patchwork of multiple logics that does not necessarily perform according to well-established or predictable scripts.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Burials, body parts and bones in the earlier Upper Palaeolithic

The rich earlier Mid Upper Palaeolithic (Pavlovian) sites of Dolní Vĕstonice I and II and Pavlov I (∼32,000–∼30,000 cal BP) in southern Moravia (Czech Republic) have yielded a series of human burials, isolated pairs of extremities and isolated bones and teeth. The burials occurred within and adjacent to the remains of structures (‘huts’), among domestic debris. Two of them were adjacent to mammoth bone dumps, but none of them was directly associated with areas of apparent discard (or garbage). The isolated pairs and bones/teeth were haphazardly scattered through the occupation areas, many of them mixed with the small to medium-sized faunal remains, from which many were identified post-excavation. It is therefore difficult to establish a pattern of disposal of the human remains with respect to the abundant evidence for site structure at these Upper Palaeolithic sites. At the same time, each form of human preservation raises questions about the differential mortuary behaviours, and hence social dynamics, of these foraging populations and how we interpret them through an archaeological lens.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The politics of co-collecting

At the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, there are two positions dedicated to curating Pacific Cultures. Since 2002, the curators have been of Pacific Islands descent. One of our ongoing challenges is how to represent Pacific societies and cultures, which are increasingly transnational and indeed global, in our exhibitions and collections. We are conscientiously developing co-curating and co-collecting strategies in our approach to this milieu. However, there is actually a long history of Pacific communities in New Zealand engaging the museum in curating, collecting and exhibiting processes. In this chapter, I share some examples, highlighting how Pacific communities have exercised their agency and authority, influencing their representation in the National Museum. I describe our curatorial responses and examine what was at stake in these interactions, and what tensions and politics were and remain at play.

in Curatopia

This chapter examines the politics, aspirations and antagonisms that grew out of the curatorial process underlying the exhibition The Potosí Principle (Madrid 2010, Berlin 2011, La Paz 2011), and compares them to other Andean exhibitions including Bolivian Worlds (London 1987) and Luminescence: The Silver of Peru (Vancouver 2012, Toronto 2013). The chapter questions the category of contemporary art and examines its avowed potential as radical critique and the claims that it and other exhibition strategies have marginalised Indigenous epistemologies and obfuscated historical agency. The implications of this conflict between Western and Indigenous curators and curatorial collectives on the right of self-expression and the freedom of interpretation and critique; associated ethical conundrums and the viability of epistemological pluralism will be clearly articulated as problems requiring serious museological attention.

in Curatopia
Exhibiting pre-Indigenous belonging in Vancouver

ćəsnaʔəm, the City before the City is a boundary-breaking exhibition that has successfully challenged the museum world to revisit who is the curator and who is the audience. This chapter provides an Indigenous-framed insight into kin accountability as (re)presented to the museum world from the local tribal/aboriginal community perspective of Musqueam. The exhibition was simultaneously displayed in three venues of the Vancouver city region, each providing multiple perspectives of the original inhabitants of a village named c̓əsnaʔəm more than five thousand years old. While the central city venue at the Museum of Vancouver was high-tech and pitched to an international museum visitor, the Museum of Anthropology exhibit was uniquely ephemeral, transient and aimed at shifting preconceived perceptions of what it means to be a modern aboriginal raised in a city established on thousands of years of unbroken occupation. The most challenging of the three exhibits was to be found in the Musqueam village Culture Centre. In this instance the art and treasures were displayed in a manner that required elders to provide interpretation and the audience is their own. Three exhibits, three boundary-breaking contact zones, one people, Musqueam.

in Curatopia