Exhibition and Conference:

Dead Images. Facing the History, Ethics and Politics of European Skull Collections

Edinburgh College of Art, ECA main building, 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9DF, UK

We are pleased to announce two events both of which are in connection to the Dead Images project – an arts-based research undertaking involving arts and academics from CARMAH, Humboldt University of Berlin, the Natural History Museum of Vienna, and the University of Edinburgh. It is part of a larger project, TRACES, which explores opportunities and practices inherent in transmitting contentious heritages.

Dead Images is an artistic exploration of the complex and contentious legacy of collections of human skulls that reside in public institutions in Europe. These assemblages of the remains of the dead were created during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when scientists sought to elaborate ideas of human difference through the comparative study of crania. Some skulls were taken close to home, but others were looted from battlefield sites or the graves of indigenous peoples, taken without consent and in violation of local beliefs concerning the sanctity of the dead and the reverence for ancestors.

We live with this legacy. It resides in our cities. Often it is hidden but it is still with us. The Dead Images exhibition, created by Tal Adler in collaboration with a team of fellow artists, historians, bioarchaeologists and anthropologists, brings this legacy to light by exhibiting a life-sized, 30 x 3 meter, photograph of part of one such collection, a gathering of more than 8,000 skulls which sit on shelves along a corridor in the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

In exhibiting this photograph, this installation asks questions of ourselves, our ambivalent curiosity and our own desire to see that which is withheld. Who are we to show the photograph and to invite the public to gaze upon the bones of others as an artistic or scientific spectacle? We explore these questions through a series of filmed works, in which different people speak to this history, their own beliefs and feelings and whether or not we should display such a photograph.

The choice to see the photograph, finally, rests with the visitor and in making that choice visitors are asked to reflect upon this history, the work of bringing this history to light, the ethics and politics of making such a display visible and the role that descendants, curators, scientists, artists and the public may play in reimagining a place and purpose for these remains of once-living people.



28.6.2018, 6.30 pm – 9.30 pm: Panel discussion and exhibition opening

28.6 – 30.6, 9.00 am – 6.00 pm: Dead Images international conference (registration required)

28.6 – 25.8 – Exhibition open

  • 28.6-26.7: 12-5pm (Tue-Sat)
  • 27.7-25.8: 10am-6pm (Mon-Sun)


On the evening of Thursday the 28th of June, the “Dead Images” exhibition opens with a conversation, facilitated by Sam Alberti, National Museums Scotland, between the artist, Tal Adler, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Charlotte Roberts, University of Durham. This will be followed by a wine reception and a viewing of the exhibition.

Throughout the day on Friday the 29th, we will host an international conference, which gathers together people who are concerned with these collections in a variety of ways, including artists, archaeologists, anthropologist, historians and activists. They have been invited to reflect on these collections, their history and the moral and social implications of their keeping and display. There is a small conference fee of £10.00.

For more information and registration for the Dead Images Exhibition opening, Thursday, 28th of June, please click here.

For more information and registration for the Dead Images conference on the Friday, 29th of June, please click here.


Confirmed speakers include:

Tal Adler (Humboldt University of Berlin)

Sam Alberti (National Museums of Scotland)

Sabine Eggers (Natural History Museum Vienna)

Te Herekiekie Herewini (Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand)

Elizabeth James-Perry (artist, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head –Aquinna)

June Jones (University of Birmingham)

Konradin Kunze (author and performer, Berlin)

Rebecca Redfern (Museum of London)

Layla Renshaw (Kingston University London)

James Riding In (Arizona State University)

Charlotte Roberts (Durham University)

Elise Smith (University of Warwick)

Joan Smith (Edinburgh College of Art)

Anna Szöke (Humboldt University of Berlin)

Maria Teschler-Nicola (Natural History Museum Vienna, University of Vienna)

Paul Turnbull (University of Tasmania, University of Queensland)

For more information visit www.dead-images.info

If you have any questions about either of these events please contact Anna Szöke (anna.szoeke@hu-berlin.de) and/or John Harries (j.harries@ed.ac.uk)


TRACES is funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 693857.