BODY WORLDS features authentic human specimens preserved through a revolutionary process called Plastination. This remarkable preservation technique replaces bodily fluids and fat with reactive plastics, thereby preserving human tissue in its natural state. Visitors who embark on this amazing journey below the skin’s surface will view an extensive collection including more than 200 authentic organs, systems and whole-body displays.
Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS exhibitions are the only anatomical exhibits that use donated bodies, willed by donors for the express purpose of serving BODY WORLDS mission to educate the public about health and anatomy. To date, more than 8,000 people have agreed to donate their bodies to BODY WORLDS for Plastination and use in the exhibits. [Source]
The organizers claim that the primary mission of all the BODY WORLDS exhibitions (there are now four, the one opening in Edmonton is the original, with some additions, and was first shown in Tokyo in 1995) is health education. By showing visitors what lies beneath the skin they hope that an understanding and respect for the intricate mechanics involved in the human body will be developed. Further to the goal of health education, the exhibitions juxtapose healthy and unhealthy bodies and organs side by side, most notably plasticized lungs from a smoker and body sections from a clinically obese person.
Additionally, the organizers want to make a comment about just how special every person is:
Every human being is unique. Humans reveal their individuality not only through the visible exterior, but also through the interior of their bodies, as each body is distinctly different from any other. Position, size, shape, and structure of skeleton, muscles, nerves, and organs determine our “interior face.” [Source]
These two messages do not fit cleanly together though–it can be a difficult thing to respect a person, including oneself, as an individual when that person has also been labeled as “unhealthy”. As much as any fashion magazine or runway model this exhibition makes an implicit statement about what is “healthy” and in doing so makes an implicit claim about sorts of people we should be. Whether the show is ultimately beneficial or detrimental to the goals of respect for individuals and building inclusive communities remains to be seen.