Peeling Back the Layers of the Body Worlds Exhibit

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(Photo © Shannon Curley)

Body Worlds Vital is one of several touring shows that involves using real human cadavers to educate people on human anatomy, biology, health, and how our internal structures all work together to make us function as human beings.

This summer, Providence welcomes Body Worlds Vital to town for the first time ever, featuring the exhibit at the Rhode Island Convention Center from now through Jan. 17. The exhibit, which includes 100 different body displays, is open to the public daily, and offers group rates as well as student discounts, military discounts, and senior discounts.

I was fortunate enough to get to explore the Body World Vital experience early on in its first appearance in the Renaissance City,  choosing, oddly, to go there on my birthday.
What I can say about the exhibit is this: keep an open mind –- especially while you’re looking at one.
For those who love science, medicine, biology, and who have no issues with squeamishness, I imagine that this exhibit is something of a dream come true. It took a little bit of getting used to, but once I was able to separate myself from the idea that these were real human bodies, lived in and used by real people, I was able to appreciate the sensational value of being able to witness was really goes on inside of all of us.

There were several exhibits that stand out starkly in my mind. One, called “The Dancer,” featured a male body that was split in half, vertically, down the middle. Looking at the cadaver from the front, the male form seemed fit – tight pectoral muscles, strong arms, a defined abdomen. However, walking around to the exposed backside of the body, a much different story was told. Two lungs, black, turned a dark, charcoal color. “The Dancer,” though fit and seemingly healthy, was a smoker, his life cut short by his decisions to regularly suck in carcinogens.

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(Photo by Greater Louisville Medical Society/CC by 2.0)
Another controversial part of the experience was a section dedicated to babies, showcasing infants during their development in the womb, from 6 weeks to 8 months. This section, of course, was disturbing, as it featured the cadavers of tiny humans who never truly became whole. If you are pregnant yourself, I would advise staying far away from this room – or at a minimum, mentally preparing yourself before you step in for what lies ahead.
Perhaps the most interesting (and least stomach-turning) part of the exhibit was the displays where different organs and anatomy were broken down so exhibit-goers could see the more close-up, tiny details of each structure. Most fascinating to me in this collection was the magnified view of the human ear – the part of our bodies that features the smallest bones in our whole corpus.
All in all, Body Worlds Vital is an important experience, and will stick with anyone who goes to see it. Initially, after leaving the convention center, I wasn’t so sure how I felt about the whole thing. But, in the weeks that have followed, I have found myself time and time again mentioning the things that I saw there and the feelings I had seeing such a bizarre and informative representation of human life.
The Body Worlds Vital exhibit is absolutely worth the trip. But, a word of advice? Save eating lunch until after you’ve gone through the exhibit.
Body Worlds Vital exhibit hours are:
MON–THURS     10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
FRI                       10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
SAT                      10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
SUN                     11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tickets are $19.50 for adults, $17.50 for seniors, college and military, and $15.50 for children ages 3-12. Add $5 for a guided audio tour.

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