Go see Body Worlds if you get a chance

It changed my views on life, death and art

Shefali O'Hara

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Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

Back in 2006, my ex and I visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I love this museum. There is a gem and mineral section with a geode so large you could walk inside it. The Butterfly Pavilion is magical. I can easily spend two hours wandering inside just that part of the museum. And then there is the T-Rex skeleton! Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? Or watching polar bears in 3D in the giant theater, or seeing a star show in the planetarium?

You can probably tell that I really love this place! In addition to all of these great permanent features, the Museum also hosts traveling exhibits.

In 2006, one of these special exhibitions was Body Worlds.

When we arrived at the museum, I read the information at the ticket counter. Body Worlds was an exhibition of dead bodies. I was repulsed. Did I really want to see a bunch of corpses? It sounded icky, I told my husband. And I bet they smelled.

We decided to stick with the regular exhibits. Then we took the elevator, and it got stuck. There was a guy stuck with us who had just seen Body Worlds. He couldn’t stop talking about how great it was. By the time we started to move again, he’d convinced us.

I still felt a little nervous when I walked into the hall with the dead bodies. Within a few seconds, I was enthralled.

First of all, nothing smelled. That’s because all of the organic material, the stuff that stinks when it rots, had been replaced. The process used to do this is called plastination. It was developed by a German, Gunther von Hagens. He wanted to create educational tools for medical students and others who needed to learn anatomy. He used polymers in place of skin, organs, blood…

The results were not just clean, they were often beautiful. There were display cases showing core slices from human bodies that people could examine under microscopes. There were perfectly preserved organs.

I think the beauty of these simple things must have inspired Herr von Hagens, because he expanded his horizons to ever more ambitious art forms.

In the exhibition hall, I saw a gigantic horse and rider. Portions of their bodies had…

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Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.