Israelis are no strangers to making art from live naked humans. Green Prophet’s coverage of Spencer Tunick’s photo events showing hundreds of social and ecological activists standing nude in the Dead Sea proves that “prudish” doesn’t describe the Israeli public.
But now Israelis are looking at dead Chinese people stripped of most of their flesh and preserved in liquid silicon in the “Bodies” exhibition, now open in Tel Aviv.
Some consider it art. Some consider it educational. And indeed, the exhibit has been presented at major cities worldwide. But because there’s no proof that the people whose bodies are displayed knew or consented to it before death, some consider that the exhibit violates human rights According to Jewish thought, where human remains are treated with careful respect, it is a desecration.
Protests from elements as dissimilar as politicians, the Israel Teacher’s Association, religious groups, private citizens, and the emergency-response organization Zaka began immediately after the exhibit opened its doors in May. Yitzhak Lampert a yeshiva student from Jerusalem and Yehuda Pua, a teacher, led a Facebook campaign to close the exhibit and get the bodies buried.
Lawyer David Schonberg presented a petition demanding closure of “Bodies” to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who responded by recommending closure of “Bodies” to the Supreme Court.
“Taking the body, preserving it, selling and exhibiting it without the consent of the dead, as if it were an object open to anyone’s use was disrespectful to the deceased and to the autonomy of the living,” wrote Weinstein in a letter to the Supreme Court.
Many suspect that the human remains came from tortured and executed prisoners, and in particular, from members of the persecuted Falun Gong sect. Those prisoners of conscience don’t reveal their identities in order to protect their families. When they die, their bodies remain unclaimed. Chinese law allows sale of unclaimed dead for medical or other purposes.
The Bodies Exhibition was produced by Premier Exhibitions, an American company. Its New York show posted a sign saying the human remains were obtained via the Chinese police, and may originally be from Chinese prisons.
Israeli producer Shuki Gur said,
“The statement at the entrance to the exhibition states that we don’t know exactly what the source of the bodies is. I can’t say if they were donated.” He adds, “There is no need to know who they are.”
Israel’s Supreme Court mandated that the exhibition may run no later than October 9th. The original closing date was October 21st, which makes the decision seem more like a gesture than a step to end the exhibit that fascinates and offends so many.
Knesset (Israeli Parliament) member Dr. Michael Ben Ari said,
“Unfortunately, the high court in the State of the Jewish people, disappointed us badly by making a decision that would be acceptable to everyone. Their closing date is just a few days before the exhibit’s original closing date. [The decision] should say clearly: ‘This Exhibition is an abomination. These bodies must be buried respectfully and these terrible actions of trading people, trading bodies must stop.’”