Artist defends newspaper ad asking for dead body: ‘Not a gimmick’

The artist is calling on allies of Aboriginal Australians to physically support the cause by putting their body on the line.

The artist behind a newspaper ad calling on someone to donate their dead body for an art installation has been uncovered, and he is adamant the move is “not a gimmick”.

Nathan Maynard set tongues wagging on the weekend when he posted an ad in the classifieds of Melbourne newspaper, The Age, asking for an Australian of British descent to donate “their future deceased body” for an art installation.

He explained the work would “speak to sacrifice past sins perpetrated against the Palawa”, Tasmanian’s Indigenous people.

The newspaper ad from The Age on Saturday.
The newspaper ad from The Age on Saturday requested an 'Australian of British descent who is willing to donate their future deceased body to an art installation'. Source: Reddit

On revealing his identity to Yahoo News Australia on Thursday, the artist and playwright insisted the ad wasn’t a stunt.

“I am genuinely wanting someone’s body,” he said. “For sure. Definitely. This is not a gimmick. I want them to collaborate on an art installation with me.”

Artist wants allies to put their ‘body on the line’

For Mr Maynard, his quest for remains – which News Corp and The Examiner ‘“flat out refused to publish” – is part of his wish to have white Australians acknowledge the damage done to our First Nations people.

“If you're upset about this ad, then you should be very upset about the thousands of First Nations remains that are displayed all across the country in museums,” he said. “Because if you're not upset about that, but you're upset about this white person voluntarily giving their body to this work, I think we need to ask yourself a question.”

While Mr Maynard adds that “it’s a great sign” that more people are attending Invasion Day rallies, he wants to know what they’re prepared to do “physically” for “our cause”.

“It seems to me there's a lot of white tokenism in this country at the moment, a lot of virtue signalling,” he said. “If you're one of the people at your workplace and you're starting your meeting with ‘always was, always will be Aboriginal land,’ who were you saying that for? Are you saying that for Aboriginal Australia? Are you saying that for yourself? Are you prepared to put your body on the line?”

Artist Nathan Maynard looking at the camera (left) and a close up of Mr Maynard.
Artist Nathan Maynard wants to know how far people are willing to go to support Aboriginal Australians. Source: Melbourne Theatre Company/Performing Lines

Half a dozen volunteers have already stepped forward

Since his ad was published in The Age on Saturday and Yahoo News Australia’s article was published on Tuesday, Mr Maynard says he’s received interest from half a dozen volunteers.

“Obviously there’s going to be an interview process, and there’ll be an applicant picked and then between me and that person we will have respected conversations,” he said.

“The first thing I want in this applicant is I want them to be excited by this [but I also] want them to have thought this project through because I am very serious about it. Is this something that they're really willing to do? Have they spoken to their family and friends?”

“Obviously, I want them to be a genuine person that wants to help First Nations people and wants to help raise awareness for First Nations people about things they want to raise awareness about.”

Whether or not he has a volunteer, Mr Maynard’s art installation will go ahead either way in November as part of the Hobart Current arts festival which will be held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Laws may stop artist exhibiting remains

While there is already a precedent for turning human remains into art in Tasmania, with the Museum of Old and New Art displaying people’s ashes, Mr Maynard may face a tough legal battle.

“Our laws around who can possess a dead body are very, very tight,” Dr Marc Trabsky, an Associate Professor of Law at La Trobe University, told Yahoo News Australia. “We have legislation that says you can donate your body for a number of reasons but they’re really strict.”

"[You] can’t take a body and just whack it in an art gallery or museum.”

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