Wellcome Collection shuts ‘racist’ Medicine Man exhibition after 15 years

The Wellcome Collection has closed its Medicine Man display after 15 years over concerns exhibits contained "racist, sexist and ableist theories and language".

The Euston Road museum curated the exhibition from some of the million-plus objects gathered by founder Henry Wellcome, before his death in 1936, to give an insight into global health and medicine.

The statement on Twitter read: "We can't change our past. But we can work towards a future where we give voice to the narratives and lived experiences of those who have been silenced, erased and ignored.

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"We tried to do this with some of the pieces in Medicine Man using artist interventions. But the display still perpetuates a version of medical history that is based on racist, sexist and ableist theories and language."

On the social media network, the museum said the last day of Medicine Man would be Sunday, Novermber 27 and asked users for their insight into how it progressed.

Wellcome acknowledged “the story we told was that of a man with enormous wealth, power and privilege” with other minority points of view “marginalised”. Wellcome, which has been led by director Melanie Keen since 2019, did not say there had been complaints or which pieces it was referring to.

Wellcome said a new exhibition featuring medical tales from those who have been marginalised or even erased from museums will be unveiled over the next few years in place of Medicine Man.

Reaction to the series of tweets was mixed.

Martin Levi wrote: “No, the question you've asked yourselves is how can you erase the past and make a big public display of how virtuous and woke you are.”

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Thomas Stern added: “We all know the point of museums, and we all know the point of the Wellcome Collection. What we don't know is the point of *you*.”

Cathay Windels said: “Henry Wellcome was born in a log cabin and left his wealth to create one of the world's largest medical charities. Saying "the story we told was that of a man with enormous wealth, power and privilege" is to omit the most interesting and important aspects of your founder's life.”

However, others were more positive. One wrote: “Truly, thank you for protecting those that may have been offended. So noble. So brave. We will be viewed as such a strong and courageous society when the future looks back at us.”