As 2020 delivers a purge of many things no longer acceptable, the fight for rightfulness makes its way to America’s historical institutions.
An early investor: Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum.
As reported by The Associated Press, the gallery has removed globally-famed components of human remains in an effort to “decolonize” its collection.
The organization — per the AP — is “known as one of the world’s leading institutions for anthropology, ethnography and archaeology…”
But what’s it worth, if the Woke Quotient is low?
To be clear, we’re talking about, among other items, shrunken heads.
Personally, I’d never wish to see such a thing on display, but many spectators apparently have — for a very, very long time.
"The @Pitt_Rivers removes shrunken heads from display after 80 years"—thoughtful write-up by Martin Bailey in @TheArtNewspaper, featuring our Director @prm_laurita on her "open attitude" to the tsantsas remaining in storage, being redisplayed, or returned
— Dan Hicks (@profdanhicks) September 13, 2020
Yet, as we progress, Oxford’s been leveled with charges of racism and cultural insensitivity over the offerings.
Director Laura Van Broekhoven says a lot of visitors haven’t appreciated the humanity of it all:
“Our audience research has shown that visitors often saw the museum’s displays of human remains as a testament to other cultures being ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ or ‘gruesome.’ Rather than enabling our visitors to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s ways of being, the displays reinforced racist and stereotypical thinking that goes against the museum’s values today.’’
Add to that, notes the AP, the BLM-filled air:
The decision comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has led to a re-examination of the British Empire and the objects carried away from conquered lands. Oxford itself has been the site of such protests, where demonstrators demanded the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
The removal’s been a long time coming: The remains were acquired during the British Empire’s expansion — a mandate was made to collect and classify sought objects from all over the planet.
In 2017, the joint announced it’d take an ethical review of its 130-year-old collection.
Nixing the tiny heads was part of its sizable conclusion:
The museum ultimately decided to remove 120 human remains, including the tsantsas, Naga trophy heads and an Egyptian mummy of a child.
The changes were made during a COVID-19 lockdown.
The Pitt Rivers Museum will reopen September 22nd, less rich in history and culture, but — we’re told — nicer.
A museum at Oxford University has removed its famous collection of shrunken heads and other human remains from display https://t.co/fshVTc9uSS
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 15, 2020
Marenka Thompson-Odlum — curator of many of the new offerings — described our superior condition this way:
“A lot of people might think about the removal of certain objects or the idea of restitution as a loss, but what we are trying to show is that we aren’t losing anything but creating space for more expansive stories. That is at the heart of decolonization.”
So take Oxford out of the Problematic column.
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