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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 15:59 GMT
Corpse show opens to more criticism
Body Worlds
The exhibition has been seen by eight million people
A controversial exhibition featuring human corpses has opened in London with one art critic accusing it of being a "shameless Victorian freak show".

But the man behind the Body Worlds show is confident British visitors will understand his work and be willing to donate their own bodies.

Body Worlds, at the Atlantis Gallery in Brick Lane, features 175 body parts and 25 corpses - including the body of a pregnant woman, her womb opened to reveal a eight-month-old foetus.

Professor Gunther von Hagens defended the exhibition at a press conference to mark its opening.

Body Worlds
The bodies can be put into life-like poses
He said the only people that criticised it were those who had not seen it for themselves. He added 2.5m visitors had seen the show in Japan without complaint.

He reiterated that all the bodies he used had been willingly donated and 4,500 people had offered to become donors.

Mental institution

"There's no body specimens without consent. I have enough bodies. It's not necessary to 'snatch' or 'steal' them," he said.

"When the exhibition goes on, we will have many British donors."

But when pressed he admitted he had stopped using bodies from a mental institution in Siberia after question marks were raised over whether consent had been properly given by the patients.

Prof von Hagens uses a process involving draining the body of fluids and replacing with a type of plastic which goes rigid, allowing the skinned bodies to be exhibited in life-like poses.

One of the pieces in the exhibition is the bisected corpse of an eight months-pregnant woman with her womb cut open, revealing the foetus.

Another is a chess player, leaning over the board with his brain completely exposed.
Prof von Hagens
Prof von Hagens developed the process of plastination

The exhibition has come in for fierce criticism from various sides.

The British government even looked at the legal situation surrounding the opening of Body Worlds.

'Problem of intellectual elite'

Hitting it out at critics, Prof von Hagens said: "The problem exists with those people who did not see the exhibition.

"We know from former exhibitions that opinion is always strongest before we even open, but when we open, then it's very important to see the reaction of normal people."

He pointed out that schoolchildren in particular were "spellbound" by the displays.

"Then it becomes obvious that the problem of death denial is a problem of the intellectual elite," he added.

The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday and runs until 29 September.

The BBC's Charley Figgis
"Critics say it's ghoulish and designed purely to shock"
Should an exhibition of real corpses be allowed?



1794 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

22 Mar 02 | Arts
Corpse show leaves sour taste
20 Mar 02 | Arts
Corpse show not illegal
12 Mar 02 | Arts
MPs condemn body parts show
30 Jan 02 | England
Art for heart's sake
15 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
The art of anatomy
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