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R-A-T: An associative ordering by Fritha Langerman

Iziko South African Museum (2012-2013)

This exhibition uses Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat, as a means to explore the representation of species within museums of natural history. Rather than a discrete display, R-A-T is an exhibition dispersed throughout the museum. Furtively making its way into disused corners and cabinets, this spread introduces the rat in relation to ranging themes, forming a meta-narrative of connections while suggesting manners in which museum display impacts on the understanding of species.

The rat, an urban creature abhorred within the anthropocentric city, has been largely excluded from presentation in museums of natural history. Yet, as an animal that is closely related to the development of human populations, the rat speaks as much to a cultural and social history as to a natural one. It is an icon of modernity: of disease, migration, stereotype, destruction, behavioural psychology, literature and pharmacology. The rat straddles definitions and in so doing questions the premise of museums of natural history – what is meant by nature and what is natural?

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