Exposure - Reflections on the display of contentious collections

Joan Smith, Linda Fibiger

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In the Natural History Museum of Vienna there is a display of more than 8000 human skulls of diverse provenance, ordered and arranged in glass cabinets but removed from public contemplation. The Creative Co-Production Dead Images, (part of the Horizon 2020-funded TRACES project) seeks to re-introduce these remains to the public through an academic-artistic collaboration. It hopes to create a space to confront, appraise and mediate tensions arising from the collection’s multiple biographies that encompass the personal, biological and the historical – generated by descendants, archaeologists, anthropologists, artists, curators and historians. This critical interrogation of the collection acknowledges its histories of violence and dispossession and invites the public to consider these complex issues through an installation that will involve a full-size photograph of the skull display.
Our presentation will present reflections about the diverse and at times conflicting perspectives on human remains in science and art, and the ethics of their acquisition, and particularly their curation and display. This raises questions about how we, when interacting with these remains, can acknowledge responsibility for their difficult histories without reproducing them. Can there ever be exposure of these remains, or visual reproduction, without objectification? And how can we support the viewer’s agency and eliminate a biased didactic framework?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventSkeletons, Stories and Social Bodies - University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Mar 201822 Mar 2018


ConferenceSkeletons, Stories and Social Bodies
Abbreviated titleSSSB
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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    Research output: Non-textual formArtefact

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