It’s not very easy to make artistic interpretations of medical research, and present them in a way that captures both the data sets and the mindsets of the community the research sustains. But then when do we ever want easy?
The Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition Foreign Bodies, Common Ground presents the output of six artists who did residences at research centres in Thailand, Vietnam, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and United Kingdom. The brief given to them was simple enough – explore the research being done at the centre, find an area that interests you, and make art out of it.
The responses are varied as are the works. Some focus on the science alone, while in other cases the local communities are encouraged to tell their side of the story. But either which way you realise that wherever you might be in the world – good health, strong community ties, and the opportunity and ability to earn one’s living – are common ground for every human being.
Here are some of the works that made us flip out our little black books to take notes –
Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa) worked with the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies to explore their HIV research data collection techniques. Here are some of the images he’s showing, taken by young locals who were asked to capture an image of good health. The young boy all dressed up for church holding a condom in his hand , says it all.
Lêna Bùi (Vietnam) examined zoonosis or the transfer of diseases from animals to humans. Her stunning video Where birds dance their last, follows the locals of the Trieu Khuc village who earn their living collecting chicken and duck feathers. This community was badly affected economically during the avian flu outbreak in 2008, though none of them contracted the flu themselves.
And among the works on display by Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki (Kenya) are two stunning images that represent the thin layer that separates the medical professional from the disease and the human being they are administering. Simple yet highly evocative images!