Pittsburgh Museum Removes Diorama Showing Lion Attacking Arab Man, Camel From Public View Due to Ethics Concerns

A popular diorama has been covered up and taken out of public view at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, where it has been on display for over a century, because of major ethical and accuracy concerns.

The "Lion Attacking a Dromedary" diorama depicts a violent scene: A lion attacks a courier riding a dromedary, a one-humped camel, while a lioness lies dead to the side.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on Thursday that the man in the display is described as an Arab courier, and many viewers have raised concerns over the disturbing depiction of violence toward a person of color, especially in light of the protests against systemic racism and police brutality against Black people.

"For some people of color, their traumatic experience with racialized violence leads them to see this diorama primarily through that lens. And they've told us it's disturbing to them to see a person of color be violently attacked, especially when it's displayed in such a prominent place in the museum where you cannot avoid it," Stephen Tonsor, interim director of the museum, told the Tribune-Review.

He added, "Nowhere else in our dioramas do we see humans. There are no white European humans in dioramas, and certainly no white European humans being attacked by animals."

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images/Getty

In 2017, the diorama was refurbished and repositioned to a more prominent location closer to the museum entrance, after residing in the hall of North African mammals. At the same time, it was renamed from "Arab Courier Attacked by Lions" to "Lion Attacking a Dromedary," following an analysis of the diorama's historical accuracy.

The rider in the diorama misrepresents an Arab person from North Africa, which is made clear by the man's clothing that combines several different North African cultures. According to the Carnegie Museum's magazine, the name change "seeks to dispel a long-held stereotype" that was common in 19th-century art. The magazine also points out that the desert landscape, empty except for the display of dramatic violence, contributes to a colonialist view of North Africa and perpetuates a stereotype.

French naturalist and taxidermist Edouard Verreaux and his brother Jules Verreaux constructed the piece for the Paris Exposition of 1867, and it has been on display at the Carnegie Museum since 1899.

X-rays confirmed that human bones were present within the Arab man figure, including a human skull and jaw from an unknown person, dated around the 1860s. Although Tonsor told the Tribune-Review that this was common practice in taxidermy from the 19th century and helped in building a realistic form, museum officials are faced with an ethical dilemma regarding respect for the dead.

"While we don't have a policy that would prohibit it, we do have an ethics policy that says remains should only be displayed in ways that respect the cultural traditions of the people from which those remains come and have the permission of the people whose remains are displayed," Tonsor told the newspaper.

Newsweek reached out to the Carnegie Museum for further comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

It is unclear whether the museum can or will display the popular diorama ever again. Taking into account that the piece has been a favorite of Carnegie visitors, museum officials are discussing alternatives to a public display. This could mean setting up the diorama in a separate location, making it available for viewing but carefully hidden from those who hope to avoid it.

Pittsburgh's four Carnegie museums reopened to the public on June 29 following a three-month closure because of the coronavirus. The museums are enforcing strict safety precautions, including limited foot traffic, social distancing requirements and face mask enforcement.

Pittsburgh Museum Removes Diorama Showing Lion Attacking Arab Man, Camel From Public View Due to Ethics Concerns | News