CHRIS THURMAN: Melancholia — a soul-searching art exhibition aptly displayed in a museum
An exhibition exposing the sad contradictions of life and death, darkness and light
I recently explored the University of Cape Town’s Pathology Learning Centre. Tucked away in the labyrinth of buildings constituting the Health Sciences campus, in the shadow of the Groote Schuur Hospital complex, the centre is an Aladdin’s Cave of medical history. The former Pathology Museum, dating back to the construction of the medical school on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak in the 1920s, contains some fascinating records. Diligently compiled autopsy reports hint at the details of life stories even as they focus on bodies on the mortuary table. Black and white photographs that ostensibly served to document pathologies — the effects of syphilis, say — capture the humanity of their subjects in evocative portraits. Most striking, however, are the shelves filled with specimens in various states of preservation: row upon row of organs, tissues, muscles, veins and nerves, resected and cross-sectioned and lovingly captured in Perspex and formaldehyde. They are all tagged and numbered...