DEAD IMAGES: Facing the history, ethics and politics of European skull collections

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  • 28 June - 25 July: Tue - Sat, 12pm - 5pm
    26 July - 25 August: Mon - Sun, 10am - 6pm

  • Edinburgh College of Art
    Studios C6, C7, and C8
    74 Lauriston Place
    EH3 9DF

DEAD IMAGES explores the contentious legacy of collections of human skulls, assembled during the 19th and early 20th centuries and still held in public institutions in Europe. Some of these skulls were taken close to home, but others were looted from the graves of indigenous peoples, taken without consent and in violation of beliefs concerning the sanctity of the dead.

This legacy resides in our cities, often hidden but it is still with us. The Dead Images exhibition brings this legacy to light by exhibiting a 30 metre photograph of one such collection, a gathering of more than 8,000 skulls held in the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

In exhibiting this photograph, we ask a question: who are we to invite the public to gaze upon the bones of others as an artistic or scientific spectacle? We explore this question through a series of videos, in which people speak their beliefs and feelings and whether or not we should display such a photograph.

The choice to see the photograph rests with the visitor, and in making that choice visitors are asked to reflect upon the work of bringing this history to light, the ethics of making such a display visible and the role that descendants, curators, scientists, artists and the public may play in reimagining a place and purpose for these remains of once-living people.

This event is part our Summer at ECA programme during the 2018 Edinburgh Art Festival.

Free events programme

Opening Event I Panel Discussion | Book your place >

Thurs 28th June, 7pm-8pm, ECA, West Court

Private view & wine reception | Book your place >

Thurs 28th June, 8pm, ECA Studios C6, C7 & C8

Dead Images Conference (£10 - registration required) | Book your place >

Fri 29th June, 9.15am onwards

Exhibition Tours (drop in, no need to book)

July: weekly, Tuesdays,12pm-12.45pm

August: twice-weekly, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12pm-12.45pm

Biographical Tours (drop in, no need to book)

Daily from 31 June-15th July (except 9th July), 3.30pm-4.30pm

Lunchtime Talks

  • Thursday 5 July, 12pm-1pm - In conversation: Dr Linda Fibiger & Anna Szoke. 'From touch to taboo: The ethics of handling human remains'
  • Friday 6th July, 12pm-1pm - 'Discussing contentious learning processes in the Dead Images exhibition' by Karin Schneider
  • Wednesday 18th, July, 12pm-1pm - In conversation: Dr John Harries & Dr Linda Fibiger 'Searching for the person within - Anthropological and bioarchaeological reflections on skeletal identities'
  • Tuesday 7th August, 12pm-1pm - 'Rethinking skull collections through colour' by Joan Smith
  • Wednesday 8th August, 12pm-1pm - 'Can images die?' by Dr Aglaja Kempinski
  • Tuesday 14th August, 12.45pm-1.30pm, 'Bodies in Pieces: Representations of the Human Body in Visual Arts' by Ola Wojtkiewicz, at the National Galleries of Scotland
  • Wednesday 15th August, 12pm-1pm, 'First findings on visitor engagement at the Dead Images exhibition' by Callum Fisher
  • Wednesday 22nd August, 12pm - 1pm, 'From touch to taboo: The ethics of handling human remains' by John Harries and Linda Fibiger

"Trapped in a Human Zoo" UK Premiere

Trapped in a Human Zoo follows the incredible story of two Labrador Inuit families, who in 1880, lured by promises of adventures and wealth, embarked for Europe to become the latest attraction in the now-forgotten world of ethnographical shows (also known as “human zoos”). Book your place >

Exhibition sessions for community groups

Contact if you would like to book a session for your group.