Press release

Wellcome Collection explores Art in Global Health

A ground-breaking new project from Wellcome Collection, Art in Global Health, is bringing artists and scientists together in six Wellcome Trust-funded research programmes around the world, to explore the personal, philosophical, cultural and political contexts of health research. Six-month artist residencies will result in exhibitions and performances in each country from late 2012.

'Global health' is a phrase with increasing currency, but its meanings are far from straightforward. The work at centres in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the UK ranges from investigating genetic susceptibility to malaria and designing diagnostics for dengue fever to understanding the human genome. Research centres are united by protocols and methods but face different local challenges of policy, ethics and social relevance.

Any idea of global health has to address the constant dialogue between the geographic specificity of need and disease and the global resonances of medical research. Art in Global Health will provide a new perspective on vital work, often on the front line of infectious disease prevention, and produce works that explore and communicate in various forms, from fine art to puppetry.

Residencies are getting under way, and participating artists have been given a deliberately wide and experimental brief. They will work closely with scientists and their teams (including anthropologists, ethicists and economists), as well as with communities that participate in research.

The results of these residencies - exhibitions, performances and events - will begin in the last quarter of 2012 and continue into early 2013 in each of the countries. The projects will be brought together for a future exhibition and events programme at Wellcome Collection.

Each investigative journey and its outcomes will be documented in online blogs, illuminating scientific processes and the webs of relationships on which they depend. Artist profiles and blogs can be found at the Wellcome Collection website.

The artists, of different disciplines and concerns, are known for producing insightful and evocative work. They are:

  • B-Floor Theatre (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Lena Bui (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
  • Elson Kambalu (Blantyre, Malawi)
  • Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki (Kifili and Nairobi, Kenya)
  • Zwelethu Mthethwa (Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
  • Katie Paterson (Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, UK)

The research programmes in which residencies will take place are:

With links to the Trust since the 1940s, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme is well known internationally for its work tackling malaria and other infectious diseases, particularly bacterial and viral childhood infections. The Programme is helping to train local researchers in areas such as translational research, social science and clinical trials.

The Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme carries out health research on diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, and trains clinical and laboratory scientists from Malawi and abroad.

South Africa
The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal carries out research on population and health issues affecting a rural population with one of the highest burdens of HIV in the world.

Thailand and Laos
At the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme, medical researchers in Thailand and Laos are tackling some of Asia's most important healthcare challenges. These range from endemic diseases such as malaria and the emergence of drug resistance to the dangers of counterfeit drugs.

The Vietnam Research Programme, which is home to the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, is recognised internationally for its excellence in research into infectious diseases such as dengue, influenza, typhoid and tuberculosis.

United Kingdom
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genomic research centres. A leader in the Human Genome Project, it is now focused on understanding the role of genetics in health and disease. It aims to provide results that can be translated into diagnostics, treatments or therapies that reduce global health burdens.

Danielle Olsen, curator of the Art in Global Health project says: "Wellcome Collection's critically acclaimed exhibitions illuminate and challenge our understanding of health through an open and curious minded exchange between art and science. It is in this spirit that Art in Global Health looks to foster artist-led explorations of research in centres at the cutting edge of disease prevention.

"The project is experimental, challenging and refuses the accustomed channels of understanding: we hope it teases out some new perspectives on what we mean when we talk about global health."