We’ve heard of bodies being donated to science, but would you donate your body to art? An advertisement placed by an Indigenous artist in an Australian newspaper is asking for a volunteer “of British descent” to donate their body to an art project upon their death.
The ad, placed in The Age by palawa artist Nathan Maynard, seeks a British body “to sacrifice for past sins” made during colonization.
Maynard is an Aboriginal Tasmanian performance artist and playwright. According to the BBC, the idea came to him by way of “virtue signaling” on social media, wherein “everyone wants to be seen as a good person”, the artist explained. “But lost is the fact that we’ve still got how many of our people in custody. We still haven’t got that treaty [a legal agreement with the government] in this country.”
While it is unclear what form the final installation will take, the project begins with a selection process for prospective donors.
The body for Maynard’s piece “will be treated with the utmost respect”, despite the fact that it is intended to atone for the atrocities committed during colonialist take over, including theft, mutilation, and unwanted displays of Indigenous bodies by European museums.
The piece is expected to be in the Current arts festival in Hobart in November. The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), a festival sponsor, is allowing the work due to its own misuse of Aboriginal bodies and artifacts. Two years ago, the museum issued a formal apology for having “participated in practices, including the digging up and removal, the collection, and the trade of, ancestral remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal people… largely in the name of racial sciences [which] have long been entirely discredited”.
Over the last 30 years, the remains of more than 1,650 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been returned to Australia, according to data from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Studies. The government, however, claims that some additional 1,500 bodies are currently held by collecting institutions and private holders across more than 20 countries.
The remains of 108 people who died more than 40,000 years ago were reinterred last year after being illegally excavated without permission in the 1960s and ’70s.