Educational exhibit shows off all parts of human bodies

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Oct. 11, 2012, 10:16 p.m. | Museums — by Olga Rudenko

One exhibit shows how muscles are attached to the skeleton. The eyes are the only synthetic part of the presentation.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Olga Rudenko

The body parts of Chinese people dead for more than 10 years are now on display at Olympic Stadium, part of an American exhibit that arrived in Kyiv in September.

Glass showcases show organs separately, while bodies are on display openly. Some of them stand cut in pieces to demonstrate human body entrails.

Gruesome, for sure. But also educational, say the exhibit organizers.

“This is not art, this is clear education,” says Dmitry Zhembotsky, who represents HK Exhibitions. Contrary to some media accounts, he adds, the display has nothing to do with Gunther von Hagens, the scandalous taxidermist known for dead bodies art exhibitions.

What The Human Body and von Hagens have in common is the method used to prepare samples. Bodies and organs are all plasticized, a process that can take up to a year, replacing all the water in human tissue with silicone. Such silicone-filled bodies don’t decay, have no smell and can preserve their natural look for centuries. 

The exhibition occupies nine halls and counts about 130 samples, ranging from full bodies to individual organs. Each gallery contains specific samples illustrating how one of the body’s systems works.

For example, the muscular system is presented with a body frozen in a running pose, with muscles wrested in a way to show how they are attached. 

A visitor examines one of the bodies.

All bodies and organ samples come from China and were produced there in the 1990s. The names of the people whose body parts are exhibited are unknown, but all willingly bequeathed their bodies to science and died of natural causes, not infectious diseases or murders. 

The full-body samples are all male, with one exception. One female body, in the digestion hall, is cut into three lengthwise layers to show how digestive organs look inside the body.

“We treat bodies with respect,” says Zhembotsky. “If some samples fall into a state of disrepair, they are to be cremated.”

Organizers also ban photos throughout most of the exhibit, so that visitors don’t take offensive snapshots.

Each of the nine galleries has its own guide, usually a medical student, who answers questions and accompanies visitors on their visceral tours. According to them, children are the most enthusiastic attendants. 

Tetiana Kryvych, a guide working in the embryogenesis gallery, says her section is a kids’ favorite. Stillborn babies’ bodies don’t frighten them, but adults feel sick and have to get out quickly.

In the bones gallery of exhibition, a guide explains the finer points of the human skeleton.

“They usually ask ‘Why were these babies stillborn?’ and I explain that this is because their mothers used to smoke and drink alcohol during pregnancy,” says Kryvych. “One little girl, after she heard this, went to her mother and said instructively ‘See, you didn’t smoke and that’s why I’m healthy.’”

The exhibition also weighs heavy on healthy living. Showcases display a healthy liver next to one damaged by alcohol. The same goes for lungs, hoping to convince smokers to throw their cigarettes away. After three weeks a box next to the exhibit contained about fifty cigarette packs.

“(But) some people are tricky, they throw in empty packs,” Zhembotsky says.

Before coming to Ukraine, the exhibit toured the Сzech Republic, Latvia, several cities in U.S. and other countries. However, it never went back to China, where the samples were prepared, since local authorities won’t allow it.

It presents a unique opportunity for Kyivans, as the city’s only anatomy museum is in the National Medical University of Olexander Bogomolets, which the public can’t access.

The Human Body exhibition will last until Dec. 23.

The Human Body Exhibition
Olympic Stadium, Western entrance
Through Dec. 23
10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Hr 135, Hr 155 on weekends. Hr 50 for kids under 12, Hr 105 for teenagers under 18. Hr 110 for students. Hr 105 for pensioners. Discount for groups of 15 people and more.
Exhibition is closed on the days of UEFA Champions League Kyiv games, which are on Oct. 16, Nov. 3, 6, 21. On Oct. 20 exhibition will be closed on 4 p.m.

Kyiv Post staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached at

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