Pitt Rivers Museum is to remove shrunken heads from public exhibition.
The museum’s director says that “Rather than enabling our visitors to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s ways of being, the displays reinforced racist and stereotypical thinking that goes against the museum’s core values.”
What evidence do they have that it is reinforcing racist stereotypes? Surely, it’s just an example of a cultural practice which can be placed in context. If the people who originally collected the heads were pursuing an explicitly or implicitly racist agenda, then it’s the museum’s job to explain it as part of the history of ideas.
There are any number of Egyptian mummies in the Ashmolean. Should they be taken off display because they expose ancient Egyptian civilisation as one infused with what we would regard as deeply superstitious world views. Or should they be left because they tell us something about the people who made them?
Pitt Rivers is an educational institution – its “core values” should be to inform, explain, interpret and challenge.
This is the curatorial equivalent of censorship (the public may be harmed by seeing these objects) or book-burning (these objects are too dangerous to exist).