A Seattle museum is encouraging Chinese Americans and families with small children to join them in protesting the Puyallup Fair this year, for along with the barns of 4H draft horses, runway chickens, stock pigs, cows, goats, cats, and farm dogs, patrons will have a new attraction to gawk at when the fairgrounds open on September 7*: Chinese cadavers.
"It’s not a squeamish or moral issue," says Charlotte LeFevre, a well-noted critic of the traveling Our Body exhibition, as well as the director of the Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore. "We’re not trying to pass ethical judgment, but this very exhibit was dripping body fluids in San Francisco. This is a potential health risk and it could traumatize small children."
Puyallup Fair organizers acknowledge that the same organizer who produced the leaky exhibit is producing the Puyallup fair exhibit but weakly argue that, "this is a different exhibit."
Meaning it hasn't leaked yet.
"It won't leak," promises Karen LaFlamme, a spokeswoman for the fair. The exhibit will also have a separate entrance, its own entry fee, and "we're encouraging children under 12 to be accompanied by a parent."
Our Body: The Universe Within, shows preserved cadavers stripped of their skin and posed in various athletic and iconic poses (e.g. Thinking Man! and Goaaaaaal!), ostensibly for education purposes and not macabre thrills. Critics have long demanded proof that the cadavers aren't simply the exploited bodies of Chinese death row inmates, while organizers insist that their corpses come from Hong Kong medical schools (and so their medical records are private).
After hosting two Body runs in Seattle, the Seattle City Council followed San Francisco's lead in 2010 and banned exhibitions of human remains without donor (or family) consent forms.
Aside from the cadavers' questionable origins and history of leakage, LeFevre says there's another glaring reason to protest Body: "This exhibit is especially culturally offensive as the Puyallup Fairgrounds was used as 'Camp Harmony,' a 7,000 person detainee camp for Asians during World War II," she says.
LaFemme points out that it was predominantly Japanese Americans who were held at the camp, not Chinese Americans (who were our allies during the war and so what sense would that make?). Nevertheless, she dodges questions about the taste, tact, and callousness of showing an exhibit that is rumored to exploit the bodies of Chinese prisoners—who are widely recognized to suffer human rights abuses—at the site of a former human detention camp. "We definitely respect our Asian community—we felt that it was not right for them to be in a situation that they were, some of them living here on our facility," LaFlamme says.
"We have received a couple letters protesting the exhibit," she adds.
LaFevre is hoping to add to the pile. She's hoping that the Wing Luke Museum will stand with the Museum of Lore and, united, they will demonstrate mighty sway that Seattle museums hold over the economy of regional fairs.
*The Body exhibit opens Sept 8, the Fair on Sept 7.