Paper short abstract:
The University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) houses 1110 typology masks and one full body cast, taken of African persons. Born from an antiquated science and Eurocentric chauvinism, this historic collection demands a renewed enquiry to their purpose, meaning and value in modern times.
Paper long abstract:
Housed in the School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) is the little-known "Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks". This comprises 1110 typology masks with an uncanny association between early-twentieth century anthropology and Eurocentric imperialism, fascism, racism and eugenics. Related to this collection is a single full body cast of a young deceased ‡Khomani San woman. Identified via historical and comparative craniofacial analysis to be /Keri-/Keri. In life her face was cast during the July 1936 Wits Kalahari expedition. From September 1936 till January 1937, she formed part of a "Bushmen Camp" themed attraction at the Empire Exhibition in Milner Park (Johannesburg). By 1939, her lone premature death in a colonial hospital led to continued anthropological exploitation. Her full body was cast then dissected, with skeletal remains retained. Her cast and articulated skeleton was subsequently displayed as a macabre diorama.
The case of /Keri-/Keri is not isolated. Numerous Africans were subjected to full body and facial casting for typological investigations, and to immortalise the Khoisan race before presumed extinction. The mid-twentieth century eventually witnessed a withdrawal from typological concepts to those recognising the complex influence of genetics, the environment and diet in morphology. Though anthropology has advanced, remnants of an undesirable past remain hidden in archives with uncertainties as to their appropriate storage, use and display. These historic collections thus demand a renewed enquiry to their purpose, meaning and value in modern times.
Depiction of the Dead: ethical challenges and cognitive bias