Bodies in Crisis Online Exhibit Launches
- Post Date: 09/06/2023
- Author: Clara Bosak-Schroeder, Associate Professor of Classics
- Reading Time: 5 minute read
I began this project by searching my way through the Spurlock’s online catalogue. I didn’t have a theme in mind—I didn’t really know what I was looking for. Instead, I was committed to a scope. In my field, classical studies, Greek and Roman artifacts are often separated from their broader Mediterranean context. I wanted to start with that context, to show the relationships between cultures and expand what visitors might expect from “the ancient world.” Following the example of Carol Symes’ journal at Illinois, The Medieval Globe, I thought not just about the lands that border the Mediterranean Ocean but the networks of trade and conquest that it facilitated. This led me to survey objects across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
And what I found were bodies: the human and sometimes the divine body in moments of death, disability, and monstrous transformation. These categories resonated with my own experience (external link) of bodily change: my mother’s sudden, excruciating death in 2012; my odyssey through infertility, IVF, miscarriage, and the birth of my daughter; and the chronic illness and disability that have shaped more than half of my life. As time goes on—and despite my great privilege as a white person and tenured professor—it feels like I can take less and less of the world for granted. I feel at sea, I feel it in my very cells.
When I pitched this exhibit in 2020, I wasn’t thinking explicitly about the pandemic, but my mentors at Spurlock saw potential for visitors to reflect on and process their pandemic experience through an encounter with ancient objects. We thought that this exhibit would come “after” Covid-19 and provide a retrospective understanding, an understanding of what we had been through together. This is not that “after,” if an after is even possible. And without trying to make everything about the pandemic, I think we were right: these objects can be tools for understanding the specifics of mortality and illness, of what “normal” means for our bodies and lives at this very particular moment in time.
But this is only one meaning Bodies in Crisis may hold. I’ve told you what I see when I look at these objects, but even if I could determine your interpretation, I wouldn’t want to. This is what I love about museum practice: the collaboration between visitor and curator, the museum as a space not to passively learn but to actively create. Many people who visit this exhibit—including perhaps yourselves!—won’t look at all of it, won’t read many of the words I have so carefully written. I love this. I love crafting something and then letting it go.