Recognised as ‘learning from the dead’, autopsy has been of significant importance to medicine and science, but often a painful concern of the living.
Autopsy, from the Greek “autopsia” literally means “seeing for one’s self”. The term refers to the examination of the dead body to determine the cause of death.
Scientific and ethical standards on the autopsy procedure have changed over time. What was previously considered to be ethically acceptable is viewed differently in present day. For example, the use of unclaimed bodies associated with extreme vulnerability or poverty in the past, has since become an unacceptable practice.
‘Beyond the body: a portrait of autopsy’ is an art exhibition inspired by narratives of people involved in post-mortem procedures depicting ethical dilemmas presented by the practice of examining the body across different cultures.
The artwork interprets the difficult questions posed and brings a new perspective on autopsy through imaginative and creative visions. Here we explore a range of viewpoints; A pathologist asking if the rights of the living to know the cause of death supersede the rights of the deceased to keep their secrets; A Buddhist priest discussing five elements determining stages of death, but also the universe; A scientist introducing less invasive autopsy in children to minimise body disfigurement, describing difficult conversations with grieving parents, amongst others…
The exhibition is a collaborative project between social scientist Halina Suwalowska (Exeter College, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford) and artist Anna Suwalowska (Royal College of Art). You can follow Anna on Instagram at @anna_suwalowska and Halina on twitter at @HalinaSuwalows.
The exhibition has been described as such:
Such an interesting topic, and so many questions. Very beautiful and powerful images, colours and textures. There are so many layers (LITERALLY!!) and so much to see. It made a topic I knew nothing about so interesting and challenging. Great job!
Truly rich work full of moral and spiritual paradox. Really enjoyed the whole exhibition. Congratulations!
The exhibition is coordinated by the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.
Beyond the Body: a portrait of autopsy