Humanizing and Heroizing the Fetus
The “Your Beginnings” exhibition, part of the larger “You! The Experience” exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, exemplifies the production of a dominant reproductive narrative. Through the display of preserved human embryos and fetuses, the manipulation of visual exhibit elements, and the selective presentation of information, the Museum of Science and Industry both humanizes and heroizes the fetus as a way of connecting visitors with the culturally taboo topics of reproduction and childbirth. Participant observation in the space contributes to the process of deconstructing the narrative and revealing the orientations of the exhibit. The exhibit produces and reinforces reproduction as a purely biological topic, thereby silencing the voice of the mother, while simultaneously commodifying the fetus through display and elevating the fetus as a human/hero through content. This case study builds upon the limited scholarly research on the representation of reproduction in museums, while also encouraging a continued critical gaze on science museums and exhibitions, not just those focused on reproduction, to research how knowledge is constructed and disseminated.