UK museum in Oxford removes shrunken heads from display
LONDON (AP) — Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum has removed its famous collection of shrunken heads and other human remains from display as part of a broader effort to “decolonize’’ its collections.
The museum, known as one of the world’s leading institutions for anthropology, ethnography and archaeology, had faced charges of racism and cultural insensitivity because it continued to display the items.
“Our audience research has shown that visitors often saw the museum’s displays of human remains as a testament to other cultures being ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ or ‘gruesome’,’’ museum director Laura Van Broekhoven said. “Rather than enabling our visitors to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s ways of being, the displays reinforced racist and stereotypical thinking that goes against the museum’s values today.’’
The decision comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has led to a re-examination of the British Empire and the objects carried away from conquered lands. Oxford itself has been the site of such protests, where demonstrators demanded the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
Some of the 130-year-old museum’s collection, including the human remains, was acquired during the expansion of the British Empire in line with a colonial mandate to collect and classify objects from all over the world.
The museum said it began an ethical review of its collection in 2017. This included discussions with the Universidad de San Francisco in Quito, Peru, and representatives of the Shuar indigenous community about the so-called shrunken heads, known as tsantsa by the Shuar.
The museum ultimately decided to remove 120 human remains, including the tsantsas, Naga trophy heads and an Egyptian mummy of a child.
When Pitt Rivers closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff took the opportunity to make the changes. The museum reopens Sept. 22 with interpretive displays explaining why the items were removed, new labels on many artifacts and a discussion of how historic labels sometimes obscured understanding of the cultures that produced them.
“A lot of people might think about the removal of certain objects or the idea of restitution as a loss, but what we are trying to show is that we aren’t losing anything but creating space for more expansive stories,” said Marenka Thompson-Odlum, a research associate who curated several of the new displays. “That is at the heart of decolonization.”
The human remains have been moved into storage. The museum says it plans to reach out to descendant communities around the world about how to care for some 2,800 human remains that remain in its care.
Chadwick Boseman buried near South Carolina hometown
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chadwick Boseman was buried near his South Carolina hometown six days after he died at his home in Los Angeles, according to a death certificate obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The “Black Panther” star was laid to rest Sept. 3 at Welfare Baptist Church Cemetery in Belton, South Carolina, about 11 miles from Boseman’s hometown of Anderson, the Los Angeles County Certificate showed. Anderson held a public memorial for Boseman a day later.
Boseman died at his home near Griffith Park in Los Angeles on Aug. 28, the record said.
The immediate cause was listed as multiple organ failure, with the underlying cause of colon cancer, which his family said previously that he had been diagnosed with four years earlier.
Boseman had surgery to remove the colon cancer in 2016 after his diagnosis, and in March of this year had laparoscopic surgery to remove cancer that had metastasized, the record showed.
The document lists Boseman’s profession as “artist,” and his industry as entertainment.
Very few outside of his family knew that Boseman, who played “Black Panther” in four Marvel movies and also starred in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” had been battling colon cancer when he died at age 43.
George Takei, Ocean Vuong win American Book Awards
NEW YORK (AP) — Fiction by Ocean Vuong and Yoko Ogawa, a prison memoir by Alfred Woodfox and a graphic memoir based on actor George Takei’s childhood in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese Americans are the among the winners of the 41st annual American Book Awards.
The awards were announced Monday by the Before Columbus Foundation, which champions diversity in literature.
Vuong was cited for his novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and Ogawa for “The Memory Police,” a National Book Award finalist last fall for best translated book (Stephen Snyder translated the novel from the Japanese). Takei worked with writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and illustrator Harmony Scott on “They Called Us Enemy,” in which he remembers being forced into a camp at age 4, during World War II
Others books honored Monday included Woodfox’s “Solitary,” a National Book Award finalist for nonfiction; Reginald Dwayne Betts’ poetry collection “Felon”; Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s story collection, “Sabrina & Corina,” a National Book Award finalist for fiction; and Erika Lee’s “America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States.”