FREIGHTED: 500 years of rhinoceros collection and display



Eye of a rhinoceros (picture: Fritha Langerman)
FREIGHTED: 500 years of rhinoceros collection and display
post by
Charlotte Degueldre

In this travelling installation, South African artist Fritha Langerman, from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, draws attention to the crisis of extinction of animal species, particularly the rhinoceros. It presents this animal as an object of spectacle, study, currency and desire, and refers to the complex history of colony, power and acquisition in relation to early collections of natural history, and the relevance of this to 21st century collections today. By appropriating museological methods of display, it casts doubt on the origins of collections of natural history and questions the cultural representation of nature.

Starting with Albrecht Dürer’s 1515 engraving of the first Indian rhinoceros in Europe, where he referred to his image as “abconderfet”, an accurate copy of an absent original, the installation draws on a history of printmaking and reproduction, particularly poignant in the current context where the rhinoceros is poised to become a digital image only. The project points to this potential absence, and, framed by a bisected rhino-sized crate, contains no real specimens but presents a rhinoceros in fragments. It includes reproductions of images, texts and objects from many museum collections, zoos and public archives, and makes wide historical reference, from the dissection of the Versailles rhino in 1793, to the AMNH Lang-Chapin Congo expedition, to the decimation of rhinos during the Angolan civil war.

FREIGHTED was previously shown at the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town, 2018-2019 and then travelled by ship to the National Museum of Natural History and Science, Lisbon between 2020-2021, and then to the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid and the Natural History Museum in Leipzig in 2022, before arriving at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels.


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