Interspecies Blendings and Resurrections: Material Histories of Disability and Race in Taxidermy Art
This paper analyzes the contemporary art practice of rogue taxidermy. Specifically, I look at the rogue taxidermy of Sarina Brewer, an artist who utilizes sensationalist aesthetics and representations found in historical sideshows alongside unconventional forms of taxidermy to critique historical and contemporary forms of body display. I discuss the material histories that informed and shaped the practice of taxidermy and how taxidermy was (and continues to be) bound up with a complex history of human and nonhuman animal exploitation. I analyze the interconnections between nonhuman animal taxidermy display and the historical preservation, study, and exhibition of postmortem human bodies in museums. The ethical implications of using nonhuman animal bodies as objects for political art entangle rogue taxidermy artists within the domination of nonhuman animals (alive and dead). The act of using postmortem nonhuman animal materials in artistic sculpture makes rogue taxidermy artists complicit in the history of modernity that used various bodies to outline “undesirable” racial and physiological variances. Furthermore, I analyze the subversive potential of Brewer’s sculptures to differently reconstruct sculptures of lusus naturae – from past representations – but, also, address the risky complexity of staging “monstrosity” in contemporary rogue taxidermy art. I conclude that the access and permission to place nonhuman animal bodies on display – from the outset – shows a normalization of human domination over nonhuman animal bodies, but argue that Sarina Brewer’s art, in various instances, critiques exploitation through multiple forms of body display.
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