LONDON (AP) – Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum has removed its famous collection of shrunken heads and other human remains as part of a broader effort to “decolonize” its collection.
The museum, known as one of the world’s leading institutions for anthropology, ethnography and archeology, faced accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity as it continued to display objects.
“Research from our audiences has shown that visitors often view the museum’s human displays as a testament to other cultures, a testament to being ‘barbarism’, ‘primitive’ or ‘gruesome’.” “Instead of enabling our visitors to have a deeper understanding of each other’s ways, the exhibits reinforce the racist and conservative thinking that goes against the values of the museum today.”
The decision comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement led to a re-examination of the British Empire and the conquest of things. Oxford itself has been the site of protests where protesters demanded the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
Some of the 130-year-old museum collections, including human remains, were acquired during the expansion of the British Empire to collect and classify objects from around the world according to a colonial mandate.
The museum said it began an ethical review of its collection in 2017. It involved discussions with the Universidad de San Francisco in Quito, Peru, and representatives of the Schuar indigenous community about the so-called shrunken heads heard by the Shuar.
The museum eventually decided to remove 120 human remains, including an Egyptian mummy of tents, a Naga trophy chief, and a child.
When the Pitt rivers closed during the COVID-19 epidemic, employees took the opportunity to make changes. The museum recounts on 22 September with explanatory exhibits explaining why the items were removed, new artifacts on many artifacts and how historical labels sometimes obscure understanding of those cultures.
“Many people may think of the idea of some items being removed or restored as damage, but what we are trying to show is that we are not missing anything, but more detail stories. Making space, ”said Marenka Thompson – Odlam, a research associate who curated several new displays. “It is at the heart of dissolution.”
Human remains have been transferred to storage. The museum says it plans to reach descendant communities around the world on how to care for the approximately 2,800 human remains that remain under its care.