Apparently, I’ve been in the dark these past few years.
No one ever told me about the shrunken heads hidden away at the South Florida Museum.
Real heads that used to be on the bodies of real people — that’s a little creepy when you think about it.
But the heads have been a hot topic among longtime visitors of the museum, who, for the past few years, have asked semi-retired curator Suzanne White if they will ever be on display again.
Never miss a local story.
Well, the time has almost come.
They will return in October during “World Beat: Cultural Riches from the Permanent Collection,” featuring rarely seen artifacts housed at the museum.
Two of the heads are real; Two are counterfeit. They have been at the museum since the 1950s. White said they were often sold as tourist items in the South Pacific — where the ritual of head shrinking is practiced. Shrunken heads as tourist trinkets are even creepier, though hearing about it didn’t surprise me. I had just watched “South Pacific” at the Manatee Players the night before, where a certain character had a cart full of grass skirts and shrunken heads for sale.
Of course, those heads were fake. At least I hope they were.
During museum renovations between 2001-2002, the heads were taken out of the permanent exhibition and later moved to the museum’s visible storage display until 2007, White said. She decided to keep them stored away because of the “sensational” response they would often get. Shrunken heads aren’t meant to be gawked at.
“They really have to be done respectfully,” White said on their presentation.
Plus, the heads didn’t really fit the regional art and history focus the museum was taking with it exhibitions.
When the heads return for public view, they will be placed in a small back room to keep them out of sight from adults and children who don’t want to see them but still want to enjoy the rest of the exhibition.
When I saw them about a week ago, they were sitting in the museum’s storage area, resting on a blue sheet. As White picked one up, I noticed it fit in the palm of her hand.
The two authentic heads are that of a man and a woman — both with a head full of hair. Their lips and eyes were sewn shut as was common practice by the people of the South Pacific. It was believed that sewing them shut would keep the spirits of the heads inside, White said.
Like I said, creepy.
But they are intriguing to see.
The heads will be on view from October to January.
The exhibition they will be in is one of the highlighted events of the Ringling International Arts Festival fringe event, sARTee, in October.
Included in the exhibit will be a display of cultures from across the globe of dolls, shoes, Native American and Japanese wear and items from India, Greenland, Africa, Turkey and elsewhere.
“It will be nice to have them out,” said White. “To have people enjoy them and learn something.”
January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.