Friday, January 25, 2008

The Life Museum

A Stunning Example of How East and West Differ
(Photos included in Sidebar Slide show)

If controversy arose from the Bodies Exhibit that opened in major US cities, then I can not imagine what response the Temple's Life Museum would garner. The differences between East and West are ever present when one enters the museum. Whereas the Bodies Exhibit was heralded as a new scientific approach at illustrating what I would say is the miracle of life, the Life Museum makes no such attempt or approach. It is quite simply twelve former patients, ranging from old to infant and sex worker to buddhist monk, who have a few things in common; they are Thais, they died because of HIV, they are completely naked, and they have been dead for years with all the signs of death you would imagine.

It is obvious that as a westerner one views the exhibit in a state of shock. The sheer morbidity and the deceased naked bodies remind you of just how fragile life is and what eventually awaits us all. The bodies are held up by metal clasps and no display case or boundary separates the viewer from the body being viewed. Next to their petrified bodies is a sheet that states the name, occupation, date of birth and death, and how contracted HIV. A knot turns in my stomach as I approach the three infants of the exhibit. You do not want to look or imagine what this child's parents or gaudarians went through six years ago when she passed away.

The volunteer coordinator explains to me that she knows the museum is very controversal to westerners. I have already noticed some that walk out quickly with a face that shows exactly what they are thinking. Yet, many thais and asian visitors stand in the museum snapping photos and bring children of all ages all for the ride. Why such a discrepancy? The sign that rests in the corner of the room attempts to tackle the reasoning.

Personally, I see the entire exhibit as a challenge to try to wipe the slate clear and just absorb and observe with a fresh and non-judgemental mind. It is extremely difficult but it must be done. What you learn is that one tradition is not "better" or more "right" than the other. They simply are different and approach fundamental issues through differing lens.

I will end this post with the aforementioned sign because the Buddhist monks have captured the essence of the story better than I can. The sign reads . . .

"The Spirit of those who have died here teach us how to think about our life today and in the future. We understand that life is all around us. But sometimes we forget that we are connected to all of life. Death is a part of life and we forget to accept this truth. Death leads to the birth of new life. We invite all of you who come to this place to be silent as you experience what you see here. This museum has many bodies that shows how death affects all of us. Leading us to the truth that in life we must do good for others."

No comments: