Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Chernobyl Museum

I just finished reading a remarkable oral history of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Voices from Chernobyl. The collected stories of those who lived through the accident and are living through its aftermath are powerful and heartbreaking.

One in particular struck me, as it was told by a man who began as a rocket scientist and felt compelled to collect the material culture of the accident. He tells about his father, who fought in the Second World War, and how he has very little left of his father's personal belongings, and treasures those he has. He continues:
Now you understand how I see our museum? In that urn there is some land from Chernobyl. A handful. And there's a miner's helmet. Also from there. Some farmer's equipment from the Zone. We can't let the dosimeters in here - we're glowing! But everything here needs to be real. No plaster casts. People need to believe us. And they'll only believe the real thing, because there are too many lies around Chernobyl. There were and there are still.
I am simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the idea of a museum filled with radioactive objects, and by the commitment of a curator to the absolute unvarnished truth and reality of the physical, actual objects - a commitment so deep it is killing him daily as he works with those objects.

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