Real Bodies

By Alexandra Kennedy.

There is a new and rather controversial exhibit in Sydney at the moment. It has been travelling the world to both much acclaim and heated debate since 2005. The exhibition entitled “Real Bodies” is as the title suggests an exhibition of the workings of the human body.

What makes it so controversial is that the exhibit comprises of 20 actual bodies which have been donated to the exhibit as permanent works of art, beacons of learning or abhorrent abominations depending on your view. These bodies have been dissected in various ways to expose the inner magic that is man.


Image Source: https://www.timeout.com/sydney/museums/real-bodies-the-exhibition 
Supplied: Edison Graff


The bodies are prevented from decay by means of plastination, which is a rubberisation process patented in the 1970’s by anatomist Gunther von Hagens. It essentially replaces water and fatty material in the cells first with acetone then plastics, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who when questioned would not have an immediate opinion on the value or need of this exhibit. The views held both by individuals and groups are strong and at times very polarising. At the end of the day your opinion will be shaped by your environment, upbringing and life experiences.

In the modern times death is no longer so much of a taboo and as such, is this exhibit really so much different or more confronting than that of Tutankhamun? As humans in the 21st century our thirst for knowledge, improvement and curiosity fuels an ever increasing interest in what may have in times gone by been more of a macabre fascination. The digging up of various graves and exhuming persons long gone along with their possessions is no longer termed “grave robbing” rather the new and preferred definition is archaeology.

My personal opinion is that if you are curious and intelligent enough to discern that these people donated their bodies to the “Real Bodies” exhibition for a reason – to teach others and as such who are you to begrudge them their last attempt at perpetuity? By all means go along and view the magic that is the human form – for once from the inside out. Which in these times of obsession with external appearance is almost a breath of fresh air.

“The digging up of various graves and exhuming persons long gone along with their possessions is no longer termed ‘grave robbing’ rather the new and preferred definition is archaeology.”

My 8-year-old daughter has been learning about the human body at school and is most excited by the prospect of going to see this exhibit. Having a few years of life experience to shape my opinion, I may be a little less excited but just as curious. I freely admit to being albeit a little anxious at the thought of coming face to face with my own mortality. At 8 years of age she can afford to be a little more cavalier about it.

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