Artist seeks British man’s body to ‘sacrifice’
An Aboriginal artist recently caused a stir when he shared an ad looking for the body of a British person to ‘sacrifice’ for an upcoming project.
The ad, which appeared in Australia’s The Age newspaper, asked for a volunteer “of British descent” to donate her future body “for past sins” against tribal peoples, the BBC reported.
Palawa performance artist and playwright Nathan Maynard told the outlet that he came up with the idea for the outlandish request after witnessing “virtue signals” on social media.
“With social media…everyone looks great. But lost is the fact that we still have how many of our people in custody. We still don’t have that contract [a legal agreement with the government] in this country,” Maynard explained.
With Relic Act, the new work he plans to debut at an arts festival in November, Maynard hopes to ask viewers, “What would you physically do for First Nations people in this country and around the world?” “
“Would you risk your body if you had to? Next time would they protest if an Aborigine is killed in custody? Will they join our protests?” he listed.
Maynard told the BBC that he had already received several responses to his ad and that all candidates would go through an interview and selection process.
While emphasizing in the ad that the donated body will be treated with “the utmost respect,” he also clarifies that the project itself will address centuries of indigenous subjugation by white settlers.
These include the mutilation, theft and display of indigenous bodies by European anthropologists, museums and other institutions over the years.
Maynard specifically referred to the story of William Lanne, a Tasmanian aborigine whose remains were dismembered and distributed for scientific research after his death in 1869.
Lanne’s partner Truganini was also exhibited in a museum after her death, despite her repeated pleas to avoid that fate. Her remains were returned to the Aboriginal community in 1976, with some additional hair and skin samples returned in 2002.
“She asked everyone and the government not to do this to her. And what did they do? They waited two years after her death and exhumed her body and displayed it in a museum until the 1940s,” lamented Maynard.
Lanne and Truganini are just two examples of a much bigger problem: the remains of over 1,650 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been brought back to Australia over the past three decades, according to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
However, government reports indicate that up to 1,500 bodies are in institutional and private collections spread across 20 countries, the BBC said.
The festival, where Maynard will debut Relic Act, is even sponsored by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), which two years ago apologized for its role in “the collection and trade of Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestral remains”.
Despite this, some question the artistic merit of Maynard’s own plan.
“I consider expression through art to be a central part of being human, but when it comes to public money, I think there are fair questions to ask,” said Hobart Councilwoman Louise Elliot.
“In that case, how ‘healing’ is a work of art like this? I suspect it’s more divisive seeking attention than truly therapeutic and challenging what good art should be.”
Meanwhile says Dr. Simon Longstaff of Australia’s The Ethics Center said Maynard’s conscientiousness contrasted sharply with that of European colonizers.
“The mere fact [Maynard] Asking the question and the debate it spurs already raises some really interesting questions,” Longstaff told the BBC.
“As a culture, we’ve lost the ability to deal with real complexity and to recognize that people can have different views on different issues or different views on the same issues. I think the more art engages us, the better we are as a democracy.
“There are many mummies in museums and other odds and ends of people that were collected and used in the past,” he continued.
“But where someone actually made a conscious choice to do so [donate their body] As a contribution not only to art but also to social progress, perhaps this is the first.”
TMAG also issued a statement supporting Maynard’s efforts, writing that the “confrontational” work is “an important part of our commitment to [our] apology and truth finding.
“Once the final form of the work is clear, TMAG will continue to work to ensure the work meets all relevant legal requirements.”
For his part, Maynard says he doesn’t mind that some people are offended by his project.
“Everyone is allowed to have an opinion. I believe in what I do,” he told the outlet.
“Unlike the thousands of Aboriginal remains that have been displayed around the world and dismembered, excavated, and shipped without their permission… this individual is willingly donating her body.”
His ideal donor, he said, will “understand First Nations history and struggles.”
“I think who they are and their beliefs are really going to shape this,” Maynard noted.
“I want to know if they’re real. I want to know that they are there for the right reasons.”