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Beyond the Glass

Beyond the Glass is a series opposing the display of human remains in museums. It shares the life stories of six individuals, challenging readers to question the ethics and impact of colonialism and white supremacy. These stories highlight the tragedy of subjugation and the indignity of posthumous display. After years of appeals, the remains were returned to their homelands, allowing the deceased to be laid to rest according to their cultures. This project underscores the importance of respecting the dignity of the dead and addressing colonial and supremacist legacies in museums and society.


Publication Design
Graphic Design

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Research

The research scope for the project was quite dense since it tackles an ongoing and sensitive issue in the world of museums. Many museums across the world are starting to make Reparations and send back stolen items during colonial times. What was particularly astonishing to me and what ultimately made me want to pursue this topic was when I started to question the need to display human remains in museums, From complete skeletons to smaller parts like skulls or preserved organs, I did not seem to understand why these parts could not be replaced with other materials like plaster or other life-like replicas. The remains could not be touched directly so why even display them in the first place? There are real people and stories behind these remains, and they deserve to be laid to rest according to their culture. 

Inspiration

There were two projects in particular that inspired the trajectory of this project.  “Death At Home” by Gabrielle Merite is a data visualisation project that visualises each victim who was a subject of domestic abuse in France. Rather than simply displaying these numbers on a chart, she wanted to humanify the data by talking about the stories of their lives and who they were when they were living.

 

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The second project is a curation by Y.Z. Kami for The Met. He collected the portraits made by the Egyptians for the mummies.

Having a face to associate the remains with established a human connection with the audience.  This was a crucial point in my research phase as it allowed me to understand the need for humanity to bring forward empathy from my audience. 

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“Always in front of a human face,
you have an emotional reaction.”

Y.Z. Kami

Final Data Sets

The initial response to the problem for the project was to research human remains currently displayed in museums and challenge the organisations for the need to do this and the ethics behind it. It turns out that most museums do not have a comprehensive database of the humans they display in museums. I did not have enough information about human remains currently displayed in museums to form data sets. This led me to resort to other ways I could convey the same message with the available information I could gather. 

In the end, the project transformed and it focused on the human remains that have been returned to their respective homelands and cultures. I set out to collect information on their identity and place the faces of these people who were treated wrong. I hoped to set them as examples and challenge museums to return the remaining remains still present.

Demasduit

• Human Remain - Skull

• Home country – Newfoundland (Canadian Province)  

• Year of Birth – 1796  

• Year of Death – 1820

• How – Kidnapped by the British. Kept with Leigh. While returning her back, she died of TB and was laid to rest in her hometown. But later, her skull was taken from her burial site and sent to Edinburgh in 1828

• Museum Displayed - National Museum of Scotland (from 1850)

• Returned – 2019 – initiated in 2016

• Movement – Red Indian Lake >Twillingate > Edinburgh 

Sarah Baartman

• Home Country – South Africa

• Year of Birth – 1789 •

Year of Death – 1815

• How – Hottentot Venus. Slave. Taken to England and put in a cage and displayed as exotic/ different because of her physical features. Especially the butt. “Freak show”. Later dissected to study her anatomy. She returned only after Nelson Mandela requested the reparation of her remains.

• Museum Displayed – Musée de l’Homme • Returned – 2002

• Movement – S. Africa > England > Ireland > Paris > S. Africa 

Charles Byrne

• Human Remain - Skeleton

• Home country - Ireland

• Year of Birth – 1761

• Year of Death – 1783

• How – His body was stolen by John Hunter while on its way to the sea for burial even after he specifically requested it because he knew his both would be dissected and displayed after death.

• Museum Displayed – Hunterian Museum London

• Returned – Removed from Display – Jan 2023

• Movement - Ireland > Scotland > England 

Jivaro Heads

• Human Remain - Shrunken Heads

• Year of Birth – 1800

• Year of Death – 1800

• How – Around the 1800s, colonisers started to trade heads with guns. The heads were shrunk for Religious purposes. Head Hunting.

• Museum Displayed – Various museums (Pitts River Museum & Oxford University Museum of National History 1884 – 1936)

• Returned – 2019

• Movement – To Oxford, England – Georgia, USA 

Maori Heads

• Human Remain - Preserved Tattooed Heads

• Home Country – New Zealand

• Year of Birth - Around 1700’s

• Year of Death – Same as above

• How – Around the 1770s, Europeans began to see the Maori heads as exotic pieces and treasures of war after invading and controlling the Maori people. The heads were stolen and displayed across various Western Museums. Families/Tribes would preserve heads carved uniquely to signify rank, lineage, and occupation. Usually chiefs. When they ran out of heads, the Europeans would carve them on slaves and then be killed to preserve and sell heads.

• Museum Displayed – Across Western World (American Museum of Natural History – 1st collection)

• Returned – (in the process – earliest 1985 from Austria)

• Movement – Paris, France, Berlin, Germany, Birmingham, US 

Development

After gathering the data sets, the best way I believed to represent the information was through folded pamphlets. I wanted to try different folding techniques and find the best way for the flow of information. 

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Version One
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Second
Development

The idea to pursue coloured pamphlets for each person was eventually discarded. There was very little space to work with and the the information was compromised. The project is meant to narrate the human stories behind the artefacts but instead, the lack of space was forcing me to change the narrative. 

A book format seemed more promising, and this way, I had the advantage of playing with the layout and conveying information in interesting ways. 

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The patterns on the books are inspired by natural formations. The human remains are meant to reunite with the earth and I hoped to convey the message through the graphics.

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Material and Colour explorations 

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Final Output
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