We hold many items in our collections which are culturally sensitive for the source communities from which they came. This includes sacred items, and items that should be kept secret.
During the complex history of our collections, we have not always acknowledged this fact. We now recognise that, alongside human remains, culturally sensitive items may also be considered to be ancestral relatives in their own right, and should be cared for accordingly.
We are committed to working with source communities to develop appropriate care, storage, public display, access arrangements and ownership of such items. Culturally sensitive items may only be a small part of Wellcome’s core collections, but we are keen to manage all our collections appropriately and accessibly.
We want to create better understandings of the cultural meaning and context of our collection, and to reflect this in how we manage and present them. This is outlined in our Collections Development Policy (PDF 706kb). We are led by research, stakeholders and existing best practice, including protocols established by source communities for the care of their cultural heritage. We take our lead from the ICOM Code of Ethics which calls for museums to tailor our approach to sensitive items in partnership with source communities.
We welcome enquiries and access requests from source communities. Please contact either the Collections and Research team at Wellcome Collection or the collections enquiries team at the Science Museum, who manage the objects as part of a long-term loan. Where culturally sensitive items also contain ancestral remains, please refer to our Care of Human Remains Policy.