Museum of Indigenous Human Remains Repatriation
5 HD Videos + Archival Reading Room + Documents
Imagine a future when all the European museums have been decolonized of their vast imperial collections. When all the indigenous human remains stored in their sealed vaults have been repatriated to their rightful owners. Would a museum to document the history of the world’s indigenous peoples’ struggle to reclaim their cultural heritage and fight to return their ancestors bones also exist?
In Museum of Indigenous Human Remains Repatriation Schonfeldt offers us the poetic gesture of constructing exactly such a museum - dedicated solely to the contemporary movement for human remains repatriation to indigenous peoples - and in doing so proposes a radical vision for a decolonized future. This museum becomes a counter archive to be posited in direct confrontation with the enduring contemporary penchant of many ethnographic museums to attempt to deal with their problematic imperial collections through inviting contemporary artists to “intervene” in the museum’s historical discourse.
Instead Schonfeldt proposes her own museum that mimics the traditional set-up of a museal institution - one half of the space in the Museum of Indigenous Human Remains Repatriation is dedicated to showing a “temporary exhibition”, the other half acts as the museum’s “reading room”. In both spaces Schonfeldt circumnavigates the urgent contemporary discourse surrounding the manifold complexities involved in indigenous human remains repatriation.
In the museum’s temporary exhibition space a discursive video installation A Mortuary Disposal has not been interrupted is on display. The exhibition revolves around the failed repatriation claim of a group of Torres Strait Islanders in 2011, in which the British Museum refused to return two sacred ancestral skulls belonging to the Torres Strait Islanders in their collection. The installation takes this disturbing refusal as its point of orientation and examines this one particular micro-history as a way to critically open up and interweave the broader discourses surrounding repatriation claims such as the colonial intertwines of anthropological expeditions and museum collections. In the museum’s reading room the Museum of Indigenous Human Remains Repatriation archive of literature pertaining to the entire discourse surrounding repatriation is available to the public for open access consultation.