Skeletons in the (museum) Closet: Part 2Posted: April 17, 2011
Several weeks ago, I posted about the 9/11 Museum and Memorial‘s controversial decision to house the unidentifiable bone fragments of 9/11 victims within a vault in the museum. I’ve given it some thought and decided (for myself, at least) that not only is it acceptable for the human remains to be kept within the museum but that they ought to be. My reasons are as follows:
1. The bone fragments will not be a part of the collection nor will they ever be on display
2. There is a precedent. Families will have access to the human remains much in the same way that members of American Indian tribes often have access to sacred artifacts in museums. The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, WA has a special room with access to the earth and daylight for the viewing an use of tribal objects.
3. At a site such as the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, remembrance, education, and mourning are inextricably linked. Taking the bone fragments out of the museum is tantamount to saying that cultural institutions cannot be places of mourning, that remembering and grieving for the victims of 9/11 is an act separate from learning about their experiences.
Museums are so often spoken of today as places of entertainment, commodities to be consumed. Even I am guilty of this. But museums are the sanctioned keepers of our history and culture and should be viewed as such.
The bone fragments are a powerful testament to the gravity and loss of September 11th, 2001. Remembering that day and explaining it to future generations cannot be separated from mourning those ho died in the twin towers. Yes, the loss of many families was a personal one and everyone has the right to mourn in a persoanl way. But the fact that the fragments are unidentifiable speaks to a collective loss as well.
No one will go to the 9/11 Museum to feel entertained. They will go to learn, and remember, and honor those who are no longer with us.