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Artist requests dead body in 'bizarre' Age newspaper ad: 'Sacrifice past sins'

A law expert has challenged the legality of an artist advertising in a Melbourne newspaper for a corpse.

An advertisement in a Victorian newspaper has horrified readers with many questioning the legality of the unusual request.

Featured in The Age on Saturday, as confirmed to Yahoo News Australia by the publication, the ad called for a volunteer to bequeath their remains in the name of art.

“Palawa [Indigenous people of Tasmania] artist wanting to find an Australian of British descent who is willing to donate their future deceased body to an art installation,” the clip under public notices read.

The newspaper ad from The Age on Saturday, March 4 seeking a dead Australian body.
The newspaper ad from The Age on Saturday requesting an 'Australian of British descent who is willing to donate their future deceased body to an art installation'. Source: Reddit

But it’s what followed that left readers fearing what would become of the donated body.

“The work will speak to sacrifice past sins perpetrated against the Palawa,” the artist wrote.

“Potential applications should see this opportunity as an honour. The body and the memory of the successful applicant will be treated with the utmost respect at all stages of the project.”

'Tampering with a corpse is a crime'

The newspaper reader who spotted the ad shared their find on Reddit with the caption “The Age really will let you advertise for anything”.

“This is very bizarre on multiple levels,” they added in the comments. “I feel like it’s going to be some wild Dark Mofo thing. There’s always some wild divisive piece there. But this is on another level, ethically, morally and legally.”

Others were quick to agree.

“I’m not even 100 per cent sure this is legal,” one person said. “After the second reading, that’s just not right, no,” said another.

“Tampering with a corpse is a crime!” someone else commented. “You can donate your body to medical science but I don’t think this is that.”

While some were seemingly ready to volunteer themselves.

“I’ll be dead, they can do whatever they want,” one person wrote.

A body on a table covered with a sheet (file picture)
Dr Marc Trabsky, an Associate Professor of Law at La Trobe University, said there would be no 'no way' the artist would be able to possess a dead body. Source: Getty

'You can't whack a dead body in a gallery'

But according to Dr Marc Trabsky, an Associate Professor of Law at La Trobe University, “there is no way someone would be able to possess a dead body for an art installation”.

“Our laws around who can possess a dead body are very, very tight,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “We have legislation that says you can donate your body for a number of reasons but they’re really strict. The reasons are donating to an anatomy school or non-experimental research, and then there’s organ donation, and that’s it. And then if you’re not donating it to science, it’s cremation or burial.”

He added that displaying a dead body would also go against laws including the public decency act and the handling of a corpse, even if someone agreed in a contract.

Ad could be a political statement

“If someone were to answer the ad and say, ‘okay yeah I want to do this, I’m going to put in my will that I want my body given to this artist for display’, courts can come down and say, no, you can’t do that.”

“It is illegal. They can’t take a body and just whack it in an art gallery or museum.”

Instead Dr Trabsky believes the advert may be a political statement.

“What they might be referencing is the fact galleries around the world, particularly in Britain, still have indigenous remains that they haven’t repatriated to Australia,” he explained. “It’s been an ongoing problem for centuries to return those remains of indigenous people back to country, and I think potentially this is a political statement about that.”

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