Materiality, memory and mourning: the material and symbolic agency of repatriated human remains

Morton, S (2018) Materiality, memory and mourning: the material and symbolic agency of repatriated human remains. In: All Things Considered… Material Culture and Memory, 9 - 10 November 2018, University College Cork, Ireland.

Abstract

Within UK museums socio-cultural shifts around the conceptualisation of the dead body, in part driven by requests for the repatriation the ancestral human remains of Indigenous peoples, have foregrounded the ontological instability of human remains in museum collections. Are these bones and body parts object or ancestor, person or thing? In relation to medical collections, Alberti (2011) suggests that traces of identity hinder the process of objectification that sees human body parts transformed into material culture. Yet what this argument does not take into account the material foundation of body, for just as with other object of material culture, human remains and fragmented body parts can be explored and understood through their materiality. Through mapping the materialities of the ancestral remains repatriated to Australia by the Royal College of Surgeons of England, this paper will explore the political symbolism of these remains and their role in a complex assemblage of memories, representations and embodied performance. By viewing the process of repatriation through a spatial lens and examining the traces in the socio-material world that draw absences into the present, what emerges are the complex interactions between the material and symbolic agency of the remains that force communities to confront painful histories but also necessitate a collective dialogue that can become a site for the creation and consolidation of community memory, identity and kinship.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
Institute for Education
Date Deposited: 13 May 2019 10:58
Last Modified: 13 May 2019 10:58
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