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'Homage to the Departed' – ethical considerations for human remains in museums

In “Homage to the Departed” we explore ethical issues in treatment of human remains in museums. The display or depiction of human remains in museums, whether as actual specimens, casts, or images, raises numerous ethical dilemmas and have been the subject of much debate.

With the aim to foster interdisciplinary dialogue, encourage multi-perspectives and promote inclusivity, the partnership involved young artists from Kimberley in South Africa and key local heritage and academic institutions: the McGregor Museum, Duggan Cronin Gallery and Sol Plaatje University. This novel methodological approach embedded the artists as participants, creators, and representatives of diverse communities within the historical framework of the museum with carefully planned activities.

The project builds upon previous exploration of challenging themes surrounding death through the GLIDE funded project Ethical issues in the management of dead bodies during infectious disease outbreaks and the international travel art exhibition Beyond the Body: a Portrait of Autopsy.

The project fits into a broader topic of treatment of dead bodies in a global health context. Globally, health emergencies arising from infectious disease outbreaks claim many lives, accompanied by human suffering that has lasting consequences. This research seeks to facilitate conversations around the significance of dead bodies broadly and how their treatment raises ethical and metaphysical quandaries.




South Africa

  • Sunet Swanepoel, Director, McGregor Museum, Kimberley, South Africa
  • Dr Joseph Chikumbirike, Lecturer, Heritage Studies, Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley
  • Prof Jesmael Mataga, Associate Professor, Heritage Studies, Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley
  • Special thanks to Marie Lodewyk, Curator at McGregor Museum for excellent technical support

Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, US

  • Joseph Ali, JD Associate Director for Global Programs, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, US
  • Lauren Arora Hutchinson, Director, iDeas Lab, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, US
  • Aaron Henkin, Senior Producer, iDeas Lab, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, US

Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, UK

  • Claire Murray, Research Projects Coordinator, Ethox Centre, University of Oxford
  • Milly Farrell, Public Engagement Manager, Ethox Centre, University of Oxford
  • Arsenii Alenichev, Researcher, Ethox Centre, University of Oxford
  • Gabriela Pavarini, Postdoctoral Fellow, Ethox Centre, University of Oxford