Saturday, November 28, 2015

MONDAY NOVEMBER 30: Chuy, The Wolf Man: Documentary Screening with Director Eva Aridjis

We are so very excited to be hosting Eva Aridjis--director of Santa Muerte--for a screening of her new documentary film Chuy, The Wolf Man. This film traces the lives of Jesus 'Chuy' Aceves and his family, all of whom suffer from congenital hypertrichosis, or excessive hair on the face and body. It examines, in the words of the director, "their day-to-day lives and their struggle to find love, acceptance and employment."

The film will screen at the Morbid Anatomy Museum this Monday, November 30; you can find out more in this recent article in the BBC, and more about the event here. You can watch the trailer above.

Hope very much to see you there!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Image found here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS: Corpses, Cadavers and Catalogues: The Mobilities of Dead Bodies and Body Parts, Past and Present, London, May 17 - 18, 2016

We have just been alerted to a new, multi-disciplinary conference devoted to "the dead body as a starting point for opening up wider debates on embodied knowledge, materiality and meaning-making."

Proposals (250-words max) can be sent to cccConference2016 [at] by January 15th, 2016. Full details below; You can find out more here.
CFP: Corpses, Cadavers and Catalogues: The Mobilities of Dead Bodies and Body Parts, Past and Present
May 17th-18th May 2016
Venue: Barts Pathology Museum and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London
Organisers: Kristin Hussey (QMUL) and Sarah Morton (Keble College, Oxford)
Advisory Panel: Dr. Tim Brown (QMUL) and Dr. Beth Greenhough (Keble College, Oxford)
Deadline for Abstracts: January 15th, 2016

An interest in the dead body, and particularly its shifting meanings, mobility and agency can be seen in recent works of museology, geography and history of medicine (Hallam, 2007; Maddrell and Sidaway, 2010; Alberti, 2011; Young and Light, 2013). The biographies of human remains held by museums have been an area of considerable interest for medical museums dealing with their Victorian inheritance. The process by which pathological specimens or samples transform from intimate relics of life to scientific data has been explored by social historians of medicine, anthropologists and archaeologists (Boston et al., 2008; Fontein et al., 2010; Withycombe, 2015). There remains, however, little discussion across these disciplines as well as need to further explore the movement of the dead body, both in the past and present, in order to consider broader questions of power, imperialism and globalisation.

From the repatriation of contentious human remains to the controversial and fascinating body-world exhibits, dead body parts circulate in multiple ways through museum spaces past and present. This two-day interdisciplinary conference will bring together museum professionals and academics to foster a productive dialogue on the movement of the dead body and the social, ethical and political challenges it presents. In contrast to the breadth of current research on the movement of the living, the subject of the dead body will be used to bridge the divide between the work of museum professionals and academics to promote the museum as a site for research, and develop new connections and networks.

Through this conference, we hope to use the dead body as a starting point for opening up wider debates on embodied knowledge, materiality and meaning-making, the role of the body in structures of inequality, and the challenges of colonial remains in a postcolonial world. We hope these two days will bring together diverse speakers from across disciplines to consider how bodies and body parts have informed their research and professional practice. We welcome papers from PhD students, early career researchers and heritage professionals, as well as works in progress.

Potential topics include but are not limited to:
  • Meanings of different body parts in historical and temporal contexts
  • The curation, display, and provenance of medical museum specimens
  • The materialities of colonialism and politics of repatriation
  • Human remains and the practice of medical history
  • Provenance and interpretation of morbid and pathological specimens
  • Corpse geographies, body biographies and the creation of embodied knowledge
  • Ethics of human remains research and display
To submit a paper proposal, please send an email with a 250-word abstract and a short (100 word) biography to cccConference2016 [at] by January 15th 2016. Successful applicants will be contacted by early February 2015 and be expected to register by 1 March 2016 for the conference held 17-18 May.

For further information or informal questions about possible topics, please contact the conference organisers via ccConference2016 [at]
Corpses, Cadavers and Catalogues is a collaboration between Queen Mary University of London, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Barts Pathology Museum, and is funded by the Wellcome Trust Small Grants programme.
Images: (TOP) The Hunterian Museum. (BOTTOM) Barts Pathology Museum

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Anatomy in Black: A New Anatomical Atlas in Black and Gold by Artist and Anatomist Emily Evans
Morbid Anatomy Artist and Anatomist in residence Emily Evans has just published a gorgeous and eminently covetable new anatomical atlas entitled Anatomy in Black. With over 250 illustrations custom created by Evans and rendered entirely in black and gold, this book will, in the words of its maker, lead "you stylishly through the human body from head to toe. This book is a perfect companion for those interested in anatomy, regardless of their previous knowledge of the subject matter."

The Morbid Anatomy Museum will be hosting a talk by Evans, and party to celebrate the release of the book this Wednesday, November 11th; you can find out more, and get tickets, by clicking here; you can also preorder a copy of the book by clicking here.

Morbid Anatomy asked Evans--who in addition to her illustration acts as Senior Demonstrator of Anatomy at Cambridge University, where she teaches dissection and anatomy--to share a bit about the book, and her motivation in making it; below is her response, in the form of a guest post:
I wanted to create a sophisticated and luxurious book of anatomy and the perfect object to have on your coffee table to dip into or spark conversations when guests are over for cocktails. A sexy anatomy book if you like!

I’ve spent years illustrating some of the most high profile medical textbooks of anatomy, which need to adhere to the ‘educational’ aesthetic. Although this makes them clear for learning, it’s not necessarily a book someone would want on display. This is particularly apt if someone hasn’t studied anatomy, they may feel the standard anatomy books, though having beautiful images, are completely inaccessible for someone who is merely a voyeur of anatomy.

Creating the book entirely in decadent gold and black was key to reproducing anatomical imagery in a contemporary format that had not been done before. This allows the images to be framed in a way that they appear quite abstract, and can be appreciated for their beauty, shape and design without the preconceptions of traditional anatomical imagery that we’re used to (the familiar coloured anatomical images that can trigger many people to feel squeamish or back at school).

It was crucial to me that the illustrative content of the book was a reflection of the same level that anatomy students need to know with nothing omitted or dampened for the lay audience. My experience teaching anatomy and human dissection for the last 14 years has aided me in including the relevant information in a clear and concise manner. The ultimate aim is that it is a book that showcases the beauty of human anatomy in a way that is of interest to both professionals and spectators alike.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Puebla, Mexico: Churches, Swooning Saints, Morbido Fest, Santa Muerte, Souls in Purgatory and Day of the Dead

Part of the Morbid Anatomy team has just returned from our trip to Puebla, Mexico, where we attended the fabulous and revelatory Morbidofest. Special congratulations to filmmaker in residence Ronni Thomas, whose short film on Victorian anthropomorphic taxidermist Walter Potter, The Man who Married Kittens, won an award there!

Photos above, of some of what we saw, including churches, souls in purgatory, paintings of dead nuns, reliquary effigies, Santa Muerte shrines and sanctuaries, and day of the dead celebrations. You can see many more photos--all by our creative director Joanna Ebenstein--here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dilettanti Grand Tour Stop Number One: Tim Mullen's Astounding Private Collection of Victorian Electronica Sponsored by Hendrick's Gin!

Hope you can join us for the first iteration of our new venture--The Dilettanti Grand Tour--in the astounding private collection of Tim Mullen! The event will take place November 14 at 8:00pm; tickets are extremely limited and are available here.

Loosely inspired by the Dilettanti Society, a society of 18th century aristocrats and scholars eager to share their love of art and knowledge around a good drink, we’re now embarking on a Grand Tour of the most unique private collections for a series of one-night only celebrations of all things arcane and spectacular. We’ll have drinks compliments of our kind sponsor Hendrick's Gin, we’ll have snacks, and we’ll see amazing things usually hidden behind closed doors.

Tonight's iteration will bring you in to the home of Tim Mullen, a New York based engineer with a mind-blowing collection of strange and beautiful examples of Victorian Electronica, most of which actually work! The collection ranges from antique x-ray devices to a Pre WWII TV to a funeral fan with illuminated religious figures to a “Victorian Teleport.”

To give you a sense of what's in store, above is a episode of The Midnight Archive featuring Tim and his astounding collection, directed by our filmmaker in residence Ronni Thomas.

Hope to see you there!

The Days of the Dead: A Dispatch from Rome, Guest Post by Scholar in Residence Elizabeth Harper, author of All The Saints You Should Know Blog

Below, please find a guest post by scholar in residence Elizabeth Harper of All the Saints You Should Know. in which she reports on her trip to Rome for The Days of the Dea.

All images are by the author. Please click on images to see larger, more detailed version!
The Days of the Dead: A Dispatch from Rome
Halloween in Rome is a quiet night even when it falls on an unusually warm Saturday like it did this year. A handful of kids trick-or-treated at the shops around the Campo de’ Fiori dressed as some pastiche of a corpse, a vampire or a witch and the study abroad students drank in the same bars they always do, but this time with light-up devil horns or a cape. I took a midnight stroll to the Ponte Sant’Angelo to see if the ghosts of any criminals that were executed there from the 12th to 19th century felt like celebrating, but it seemed they had no use for an imported American holiday. I wasn’t really disappointed though because on November 1st, as Americans woke to stare Christmas in its gaping maw, Italy began a two-day Catholic holiday devoted to remembering the dead.
November first was All Saints’ Day, a day devoted to the holy dead—the saints and martyrs in heaven. This is a holy day of obligation, meaning practicing Catholics are obligated to attend mass, so a lot of shops and restaurants were closed. But one of my favorite bakeries was open so I stopped and bought some almond cookies made especially for the holiday called “beans of the dead”.

Beans in Italy have a long and curious history as a food that harbors symbols of both life and death, in the form of supposed dead souls trapped in the bean and in the way beans swell with life like pregnant women. Beans, beans, the paradoxical fruit… Writers Sarah Troop and Colin Dickey have both written fascinating pieces about them and you should absolutely read both of their pieces.
Fortified by my bean-cookies and a double espresso (the Italian breakfast of champions) I set out on a walk through the city until I got to the Campo Verano cemetery, just outside of the Aurelian walls that surround the historic center of Rome. This is where Pope Francis was saying mass today. The cemetery was dressed for the occasion—relatives had spruced up graves with pots of mums and votive candles. 

A growing crowd trickled in and I figured I would try to find a decent place to stand on the outskirts and maybe I could catch a glimpse of the pope. I was unsuccessful. Instead, I got caught in a group of gung-ho nuns who were going to see il Papa come hell or high water (though either scenario seemed unlikely). When Vatican security officers began letting a few people into the gated seating area, it became clear I had two options: go with the flow or die in a nun stampede.

I chose to live and wound up with a great seat for the papal mass. The sun set as incense wound around the tombs and I was thankful to survive… for another day anyway.

That night, I chatted with a friend who jokingly said that the only way a papal mass in a cemetery could be more “me” is if they dug up the graves and sat the corpses around me. I replied in all seriousness, “No, that’s tomorrow night.”

The day after All Saints’ Day is All Souls’ Day, a holiday devoted to all the other Catholic dead—the regular Joes and Giuseppes who might be in heaven or who could be working their way though the fires of Purgatory where souls are purged of sin before being admitted to heaven. This holiday is somewhat less important in the eyes of the Church, but what it lacks in official holy obligations, it makes up for in popular devotion.

Around 4pm, as the starlings began their ritual of ominously swarming overhead, I went to Holy Mary of Prayer and Death, an oratory on Via Giulia that you can’t miss thanks to the huge, laughing skulls and skeletons that decorate the façade year-round. Any other time, you’re likely to find the doors locked but today, a nun kept a side door open and welcomed people inside. Drop a few coins in her basket and she’ll be your own personal Charon who takes you to the land of the dead. She escorted me down a narrow hallway lined with tombstones to what remains of the oratory’s crypt and cemetery.

The previous day’s cemetery had the pomp and formality you would expect from a papal mass. The elegant, 19th century tombs were built when Napoleon issued his public health codes which mandated that burials take place outside the city walls, under sanitary, modern conditions. These laws were put into place to obliterate macabre little ad hoc crypts like this one. Here, vertebrae were made into rickety electric chandeliers. Skulls were mounted on the wall to form a cross, or stacked in cabinets or piled onto the altar. A stray ribcage slumped in a corner. I recognized him from a previous visit, when he used to have a skull and had been propped up on a rod like a human pogo stick. Time keeps on slippin’, I suppose.

I’ve done a bit of research on this oratory so I decided to offer a little context to a group of confused and slightly unsettled folks from Boston who came down. They had just been walking down the street and came in because the nice nun told them to. I explained that this confraternity used to walk out to the countryside to collect the bodies of dead migrant workers from the fields. They gave them a Catholic burial in the crypt here, but a Catholic burial doesn’t actually require you to stay buried. So the bodies were eventually dug up and used as decoration or better yet, as actors in the theatrical scenes the confraternity staged for All Souls’ Day in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you want my full tour, you can read this previous guest blog I wrote which includes old photos of what the crypt looked like in its heyday.

The nun on door-duty seemed to enjoy my little tour because she sent a few more people to talk to me and by this time I was leaning into my fantasy job as Italian crypt-docent. (Please let me know if you hear of an opening in this field.) I would’ve stayed but I looked at the time and realized I had to run. There was no way I was going to be late for my next visit.

I hoofed it over to St. John Calibyte on Tiber Island for a very special once-a-year treat. On the night of November 2nd, and only then, you can join a candle-lit procession for the dead and see the Sacconi Rossi crypt.

The Sacconi Rossi were a confraternity similar to the one at Holy Mary of Prayer and Death, but they worked inside the city limits, picking up the bodies of people who died on the streets and fishing poor souls out of the Tiber. They offered these bodies a similar type of temporary burial followed by an eternity as crypt decoration.

Sacconi Rossi is a nickname and it literally means “red sacks” because they wore bright red robes. Their official name is “Devotees of the Brotherhood of Jesus Crucified at Calvary and Holy Mary of Sorrows” so you can see why they needed a nickname. They don’t really exist as an organization anymore but every year for All Souls’ Day, people from the parish of Santa Maria dell’Orto don the red sacks and honor the unknown and forgotten dead. After a mass, the priest and the red-robed parishioners led a candlelit procession down to the banks of the Tiber. There, the priest threw a wreath of white flowers into the river to honor all the unknown people who died. Then the procession went back up to the piazza were the crypt was unlocked for its annual blessing and visit.

In this crypt, the bodies were so old that the smaller bones had all crumbled into dust. What remained was mostly toothless, jawless skulls stacked on tibae and femora. The only whole-ish skeleton was missing his feet and wore the red robe of the confraternity. He was splayed out on the ground between two pews, inviting everyone to take a seat and ponder him. As David Sedaris says in his essay Memento Mori, “The skeleton has a much more limited vocabulary, and says only one thing: ‘You are going to die.”

A cloud of incense filled the crowded rooms of the Sacconi Rossi crypt and dozens more red votive candles burned as the priest sprinkled holy water on the bones. A few people joked under their breath that it was so hot that it was a shame that only the dead were getting sprinkled. But that’s the way it is. This is their day. Every other day is for the living.