As one of the key texts in my research for this topic, Haraway’s Teddy Bear Patriarchy describes the inherent bias in creating the African Hall of the American Natural History museum in New York, through the biography of taxidermist Carl Akeley.
Most evidently we see the bias as Haraway describes the dioramas of the museum as being “captured in a photographer’s and sculptor’s vision” (162).
Akeley’s life is constructed as having one major focus: “recapturing and representing the nature he saw2 (169). Though Akeley was intent on not lying in his work, the whole notion of putting animals on display definitely fiddles with the notion of truth and fiction, as Akeley’s process of selection is problematic and biased in itself. The key element that comes to light here is how Akeley was searching for perfection, but as Haraway stresses, how do we now that this state of being actually exists? (173) Through the process of putting these animals on display, Akeley is creating his own form of natural selection, molding nature in his own ideal instead. By depicting Akeley’s hunting process and preferences the notion of how the dioramas “each tells the truth. Each offers a vision. Each is a window onto knowledge” is questioned, leaving us to wonder what kind of truth and vision is actually displayed.
Combining art and science through taxidermy is an interesting notion as well, one we see copied in the works of Damien Hirst’s Natural History series, and it is interesting to note how Haraway describes Akeley’s science as being “dedicated to the prevention of decadence, of biological decay”, a notion which is definitely brought back into question through a lot of Hirst’s pieces.
Haraway, Donna. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-36.” in: Social Text 11. Winter 1984/85, pp. 19-64. Print.