Steven Lubar Brown University

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Representing the pain of others
Telling stories of violence, suffering and death in museum exhibits

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.

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