Foreign Bodies – Common Ground at the Wellcome Collection, London

A stop off at the Wellcome Collection for a cup of tea resulted in a very enjoyable look round their current exhibition Foreign Bodies – Common Ground, which wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was expecting something very sciencey, but instead got something very arty – the concept is that six artists were asked to explore researchers in different parts of the world and their interaction with local communities, producing work based on these experiences.

The exhibition is made up of paintings, photography, installations, video and even an interactive photo opportunity. I really liked the paintings in the first room, by artist Elson Kambalu, based in Lilongwe, Malawi, whose projects allow research teams and participants to discuss their views on research. The resulting works are complicated (although simply painted), vibrant pieces, that could trigger a different interpretation each time you looked at them, as well as pieces created in traditional ways by women in the communities he was working with.

Elson Wellcome Collection painting

Elson invited 20 women in the Chikawaw district to produce traditional pieces based on the theme of health and research.

One of the photography projects in the main room is the result of workshops in Mtubatuba, South Africa, equipping local people with the skills to produce their own photographs and then asking them to explore the theme of ‘good health’. The resulting photos on display allow the communities themselves to appear behind the researcher’s data and perceptions.

Wellcome collection photograph Foreign Bodies, Common Ground

Zwelethu Mthethwa photography project in South Africa

And given that interaction is key to the projects on display it is fitting that you too can interact in the exhibition too. A mock up of a room, with white coats and props and a camera symbol marked on the floor invites you to create your own scene alongside examples of others interpretations of the scene. The white coats seem the most potent props on display – the association of white coats with medicine, power and authority is so strong that it really made me think of the imbalance in relationships and how this could play out in communities.

Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki invited people in the Kenyan town of Kilifi to pose with a varity of props.

Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki invited people in the Kenyan town of Kilifi to pose with a variety of props.

Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Until 9 February 2014
FREE entry


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