Thursday, October 12, 2006

NY Museum Did Not Have Proper Respectful Eskimo Art

In 1897 explorer Robert Peary brought six Inuit Eskimo from Greenland to New York so scientists could study them without fear of frostbite. Thousands of New Yorker's met Perry's ship to ogle the three men, a woman, a girl, and a boy. The Inuit Eskimo were housed in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History where scientists, journalists, and others watched the visitors adapt to "civilized" life as some type of exhibit of Eskimo art. Within a year, four of the Inuit Eskimo had died from of tuberculosis. (One of the museum's living Inuit Eskimo had returned to Greenland; the second -- a boy named Minik -- was adopted by a museum official.) Officials turned the bodies over to a medical school for dissection. The medical school then sent the remains to a "bone-house" to clean away remaining flesh. The bones were then shipped back to the American Museum of Natural History to be stored among their artifacts. Meanwhile, the museum failed to notify the Inuit Eskimo families of their relatives' deaths, while arranging for a fake burial to fool the survivors. Minik later claimed to have found his father's skeleton in a display case and immediately requested the bones be returned to Greenland. However, the American Museum of Natural History kept the bones. By the 1990s, following lengthy bouts of bad press, the NMNH finally returned the remains to Greenland for burial. They were interred there in 1993, after almost a century in a drawer. This was certainly not a case of proper and respectful Eskimo art on display at a museum

For more respectful examples, see Eskimo Art at Free Spirit Gallery.

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