Vienna, Austria – Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Tal Adler, Linda Fibiger, John Harries, Joan Smith, Anna Szoeke, Maria Teschler-Nicola
University of Edinburgh, Natural History Museum Vienna
This Creative Co-Production engages with the complex and contentious legacy of collections of human skulls kept by museums, universities and other public institutions in Europe. These osteological archives, now mostly withdrawn from public view, were amassed during the 19th and first few decades of the 20th century, when a comparative analysis of crania was central to the scientific study of individuals and populations that was, in many ways, foundational to the emergence of modern anthropology. To feed this project, skulls were procured by all manner of means, including being looted from the graves of indigenous peoples at the margins of European Empires.
The focus of this project is a cabinet displaying around 8,000 skulls, part of a collection of roughly 40,000 kept by the Anthropology Department of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Through a series of artistic, anthropological, historical and educational engagements with this and similar collections, we intend to explore the philosophical, aesthetic, political and scientific implications of these problematic gatherings of human remains that endure, mostly out of sight, within the public culture of Europe. This exploration will be directed towards, and sensitive to, the complex and often ambivalent significance of these archives of humans skulls to scientific communities, to national publics and to indigenous peoples who seek the recovery of ancestral remains within a postcolonial politic of recognition and redress.