The Quickie

A bite-sized look at this week's news…

Where in the world?: Body Worlds

Posted by lsjlaura on October 28, 2008

Tokyo was the first city to surprise the world when they hosted the original Body Worlds exhibition in 1995. Skin stripped away with muscles and ligaments exposed bare, the show sparked off fascination and debate for education and the literal meaning of “body art”. 

Since then 50 museums have followed suit in North America, Europe and Asia. Dr. Gunther von Hagen has five laboratories in four countries with 340 people working on corpses to preserve and “plastinate” the bodies.

Controversy has arisen for a number of reasons, one of them being the origin of the bodies: 

Due to the involvement with the dead and what may be viewed as goriness of the exhibitions, the ways in which the bodies were obtained and prepared have been under much scrutiny. 

Where from?

The Body Worlds website states that: “exhibitions rely on the generosity of body donors; individuals who bequeathed that, on their death, their bodies can be used for educational purposes in the exhibition.” However some of the bodies were thought to be of Chinese prisoners of war or executed people. The claims were made by the German publication Der Spiegel. 

Dr. von Hagens was unsure of the origin of the bodies and therefore had some of them cremated and he later made an injunction against the German publication for making the claims. Some of the replica Chinese exhibits have also been under suspicion that the body techniques had been carried out without informed written consent. 

In 2003 von Hagens wrote a report named “No skeletons in the Closet – Facts, Background and Conclusions, a response to the alleged corpse scandals in Novosibirsk, Russia, and Bishkek, Kyrgizstan, associated with the BODY WORLDS exhibition.”

He signs it off with “vouching for accuracy”. 

Despite this uneasiness and suspicion surrounding his work, many have been inspired and learnt from his exhibits from around the world. Over 25 million people have visited one of his exhibits.

Laura James – laura.james@my.westminster.ac.uk

 

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