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Figure looking at artwork in exhibition.

'Beyond the Body: a portrait of autopsy’ is an art exhibition inspired by narratives of people involved in post-mortem procedures, depicting ethical dilemmas presented by the practice of examining the body across different cultures. Recognised as ‘learning from the dead’, autopsy has been of significant importance to medicine and science, but often a painful concern of the living.

The exhibition is a collaborative project between Ethox’s Dr Halina Suwalowska and artist Anna Suwalowska (Royal College of Art), coordinated by the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities.

The artwork, inspired by Halina’s research, interprets the difficult questions posed and brings new perspectives on autopsy. Here, art explores a range of viewpoints; a pathologist asking if the rights of the living to know the cause of death supersede the rights of the deceased to keep their secrets; a Buddhist priest discussing five elements determining stages of death, but also the universe; a scientist introducing less invasive autopsy in children to minimise body disfigurement, describing difficult conversations with grieving parents.

In April 2022 ‘Beyond the Body’ was shown at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town as part of the ‘Diagnosing Loss’ exhibition, curated by Dr Nina Liebenberg (The Centre for Curating the Archive, University of Cape Town). As well as ‘Beyond the Body’, the exhibition brought together several artworks from Michaelis School of Fine Art staff, students, and graduates, along with objects sourced from the university's Physics, Pathology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Special Collections, Anatomy, and Biological Sciences Departments.

Following the launch of the exhibition Halina met with Nina to discuss the concept of ‘Diagnosing Loss’ and the role ‘Beyond the body’ played in inspiring it. Read a blog post of their conversation to find out more.