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This article is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Approaching Mannequins Vahni Capildeo

What is there to say except ‘You must go, darlings!’ What is there to answer except ‘Shall we?’ Silent Partners: Artist & Mannequin from Function to Fetish is on at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from 14 October 2014 until 25 January 2015. So on a balmy autumn day, Slash and Jay and I met on the gravelled path outside the entrance, walked in, and stopped. We stopped dead, and exchanged haunted looks. It didn’t click that what was about to happen was already happening: we had begun to embody clichés. The exhibition, before we had seen a single piece, was turning us into its pieces: its intellectual provocation to think about death and inertia and reproducibility was exercising a physical effect on us, halting our fleshly steps.

Memory spoke: the masculine London voice of a young novelist giving a lecture. ‘If you take an underground carriage full of people, you can’t tell anything about those people; and none of them can tell anything about each other, not really,’ he said. No, I thought then and now. You can tell a lot by what is impermissible. For example: entering the carriage, I do not greet everyone with a ‘Good day’, or ‘Good night’, unlike in the public loo in the shopping mall food court in Trinidad, where acknowledgement is de rigueur for ladies chanting their way past the washbasins towards cubicles. If I unwrap food for myself to eat on the carriage, I do not offer any to my neighbours; nor do they offer theirs to me. Nobody in the Tube ...

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