There are many factors at work in the iconography of human remains. Some of those frequently discussed are aesthetic criteria, iconographic traditions and specific contingencies, whether political (for example in war paintings), symbolic (essential for transi images) or cultural. There is, however, one factor that is rarely mentioned, despite its centrality: the regime of value associated with corpses. Christ’s body is not painted in the same way as that of a departed relative or that used in a human dissection. Artists choose a suitable iconography depending on how the remains are perceived. This criterion became absolutely crucial in contexts such as nineteenth-century France, when attitudes to corpses underwent major changes.
This edited transcript of conversations between an Apache cultural heritage professional, Vernelda Grant, and researcher Bridget Conley explores the knowledge that should guide the repatriation of human remains in the colonial context of repatriating Apache sacred, cultural and patrimonial items – including human remains – from museum collections in the United States. Grant provides a historical overview of the how Apache elders first grappled with this problem, following the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) in the US Congress. She explains how and why community leaders made decisions about what items they would prioritise for repatriation. Central to her discussion is an Apache knowledge ecology grounded in recognition that the meaning of discrete items cannot be divorced from the larger religious and cultural context from which they come.
Both historical and contemporary records of mass contagion provide occasions for visibility to persons who otherwise remain little recognised and even less studied: those who bury the dead. While global reports attest to self-advocacy among cemetery workers in the current COVID-19 pandemic, the psychological complexities of their labour go virtually unseen. Findings on the experiences of those doing such work reveal a striking contrast. While societal disavowal often renders their task as abject and forgettable, those who inter the remains frequently report affective connections to the dead that powerfully, and poignantly, undermine this erasure. Acknowledging such empathic relationality allows us to look at this profession in areas where it has never been considered, such as psychoanalytic work on ‘mentalisation’ or in contemporary ethics. The article concludes with an example from the accounts of those who have buried the dead in the massed graves on New York’s Hart Island.
This article focuses on ongoing contestations around burned human remains originating from the Holocaust, their changing meanings and dynamics, and their presence/absence in Holocaust-related debates, museums and memorial sites. It argues that ashes challenge but also expand the notion of what constitutes human remains, rendering them irreducible to merely bones and fleshed bodies, and proposes that incinerated remains need to be seen not as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of the dead but as a different one, equally important to engage with – analytically, ethically and politically. Challenging the perception of ashes as unable to carry traces of the personhood of the of the dead, and as not capable of yielding evidence, I posit that, regardless of their fragile corporality, incinerated human remains should be considered abjectual and evidential, as testifying to the violence from which they originated and to which they were subjected. Moreover, in this article I consider incinerated human remains through the prism of the notion of vulnerability, meant to convey their susceptibility to violence – violence through misuse, destruction, objectification, instrumentalisation and/or museum display. I argue that the consequences of the constantly negotiated status of ashes as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of human remains include their very presence in museum exhibitions – where they, as human remains, do not necessarily belong.
This article describes some of the techniques museums use to represent the suffering body in exhibitions. Some display human remains, but much more common, especially in Western museums, are stand-ins for the body. Manikins take many forms, including the wax museum’s hyperrealistic representations, the history museum’s neutral grey figures and the expressionistic figures that represent enslaved people in many recent exhibits. Symbolic objects or artefacts from the lives of victims can serve as counterweights to telling the story of their deaths. Photographs can show horror and the machinery of death, focus attention on individual lives or recreate communities. The absence of the body can call attention to its suffering. All of these techniques can be useful for museums trying to display and teach traumatic histories, but must be used with care and caution.
Chapter 1 focuses on the Quinta Normal Park, one of the key sites for the Mapuche diaspora in the Chilean capital since the 1960s: the place where indigenous migrants spent their free time, met each other, fell in love and often started their families. The park, deeply connected with family and personal memories and the relationship with both the land of origin in the south and previous generations, is still the location of cultural and political manifestations for urban Mapuche. However, between 1959 and 1960, it was also the ‘field’ for the first ethnographic account of the ‘urban Mapuche’, by the Chilean anthropologist Carlos Munizaga (1961). This chapter plays with these two levels, defying the detached and impersonal ethnographic gaze on indigenous migrants caught in a supposed process of ‘assimilation’ with a claim for a situated and owned history of displacement, but also creative practices of place and self-making. At the end of the chapter, Scene 1 of the play Santiago Waria is reproduced, in which these concerns are translated into theatrical representation. The Interlude ‘From the Quinta to the Colony’, also part of the play, makes the connection with Chapter 2 through time-travelling that brings the reader back and forth between colonial times, the Pinochet dictatorship, and the neoliberal city in 2018.
Chapter 2 focuses on the Plaza de Armas, the main square in downtown Santiago. The site of the first Spanish settlement in Chile, the square is marked by colonial symbols and by an ideology of the ‘foundation’ of the Chilean nation that erases its indigenous and mestizo roots. Moving from an intense debate around the violent yet creative relationship between indigeneity and the city, the chapter plays with the overlapping of times and symbols. The central theme of both the visual and textual elaboration is the recursivity of colonisation, addressed by interrogating the materiality of monuments and landmarks in the square. More specifically, the chapter engages with both colonial symbols such as the statue to the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia and characteristic representations of neoliberal multiculturalism such as the monument in homage to indigenous people. These monumentalities are addressed here by drawing on creative and performative interventions realised in the square in 2018. At the end of the chapter, Scene 2 of Santiago Waria plays with the antagonistic images and imaginations of otherness in the space of the square; while the Interlude ‘From the Colony to the White City’ accompanies the reader to the next chapter/place: the upper-class district.
Chapter 3 focuses on the upper-class sector of Providencia, one of the places where indigenous women have worked when migrating to the capital city, typically employed as housemaids, recently included among those that have been defined as ‘racialised jobs’. Moving from the family experiences of many of the authors of the book, this chapter addresses upper-class neighbourhoods from the indigenous perspective: as places of servitude where colonial power relationships are endlessly reproduced, but also of work, agency and endurance; pain and loss, but also affect. The silent memories of many Mapuche women working in the area are addressed through intimate narratives and the ‘post-memories’ of current younger generations, caught in the ambivalence of these foreign yet familiar spatialities. Drawing on these trajectories and on the spaces inhabited by live-in maids, the chapter analyses domestic labour as a form of social, spatial, and existential ‘reduction’. The chapter finally addresses the contemporary debate about indigenous feminism, its challenges and friction, as well as the need to rethink gender relations in the Mapuche socio-political context. In conclusion, Scene 3 of Santiago Waria enacts a performative memorial to the trajectories of indigenous women in upper-class areas of the city. The Interlude ‘Toward the hill with two names’, guides the reader toward the book’s final chapter and destination, going through protests in the city in the 1990s, migrants’ letters and Mapuche pop music.
Chapter 4 takes place in the Santa Lucía/Welen Hill, whose double name in Spanish and Mapudungun already speaks of the tension embedded in it. Supposedly the place where the capital city was symbolically founded, the hill is the site for the materialisation of many national symbols and landmarks, yet in pre-Hispanic times the hill was an indigenous territorial reference both politically and spiritually. Still today it is one of the key sites for indigenous cultural and political mobilisation within the city. Fitting to both the display and the contestation of national ideologies and processes of racialisation, situated in the heart of Santiago’s city centre, the hill provides an almost 360-degree view of the city from above. In its ambivalence, this site stands as the location for a hybrid, mixed-up (champurria) and contradictory urban indigeneity, one able to ‘stain’, with bodily presence, the simulated ‘whiteness’ of the (post)colonial city. From the heights of the hill, multiple identities and belongings are claimed through fiction, re-enactment and poetry. In the last scene of the play Santiago Waria, the Comandante Boliviano leads utopian re-imaginations of the future, moving from which the chapter discusses the possibility of multiple modernities and broader decolonial and anticolonial stances.