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Wellcome Collection ending display of Medicine Man, calling it racist, sexist, ableist

The Wellcome Collection museum in London is removing the Medicine Man exhibit due its racist, sexist and ableist themes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Wellcome Collection museum in London is removing the Medicine Man exhibit due its racist, sexist and ableist themes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The 15-year run of the Medicine Man display, which showcased pieces of global health and medicine, will be removed from the Wellcome Collection at the University of London because of its racist, sexist and disabled themes.

An explanation for the decision was posted in a thread on the museum and library's Twitter account. It described the intentions of founder Henry Wellcome, who began collecting items related to art, science and health in the 19th century that were later displayed by the museum.

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"The result was a collection that told a global story of health and medicine in which disabled people, Black people, Indigenous peoples and people of colour were exoticised, marginalised and exploited - or even missed out altogether," the tweet said.

On Sunday, the Medicine Man exhibit was permanently closed.

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Before deciding to remove the exhibit, the Wellcome Collection added texts, which it called interventions, to the displays to give them more context, but it found these were still inappropriate.

The statement posted on the Wellcome Collection's official website referred to the removal of the Medicine Man as a "significant turning point."

"Over the coming years, a major project will amplify the voices of those who have been previously erased or marginalised from museums, bringing their stories of health and humanity to the heart of our galleries," it said.

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The museum's director Melanie Keen was appointed to the position in 2019. After taking on the role, she said the museum would be "courageous" as it decides what to do with some of the more controversial displays.

"It feels like an impossible place to be worrying about this material we hold without interrogating what it is, what narratives there are to be understood in a more profound way, and how the material came to be in our collection," she said, according to the Guardian.

A Medical Missionary Attending to a Sick African created in 1916 by Harold Copping was one particular piece Keen referenced specifically. The painting, as the title describes, depicts a racial stereotype and hierarchy in which an African needs the help of a white man to be saved. The painting has since been removed and placed in storage.

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