Mariam investigates the linguistic and visual metaphors we use to understand illness, and whether changes in how we speak about diseases affect how we treat them.
Contagious Cities was an international cultural programme which supported local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness. The programme was staged across four cities: Berlin, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. It ran from September 2018 to December 2019.
Microbes, migration and the metropolis
Cities bring people and germs together. Contagious Cities explored the outcomes of this cohabitation, and the relationship between microbes, migration and the metropolis.
Combining different perspectives and expertise, partners in the programme co-produced artist residencies, exhibitions, interactive experiences, events and broadcasts. Together, they investigated the physical, social, economic and cultural effects of infectious disease.
The programme was developed by Wellcome. It marked the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world's population was infected and around 50 million people died.
Artists across four cities explored unique perspectives on the theme of contagious cities: from our relationship with the natural world to the metaphors we use to understand illness.
Click the links below to watch behind-the-scenes with each of the artists.
Blast Theory – who explore social and political questions through interactive art – became the first artists-in-residence at the World Health Organization.
Through her video and performance-based work, Angela interrogates the complexities and contradictions surrounding infectious diseases.
Simon questions our attempts to categorise animals, and our relationship with the natural world and zoonotic disease.
Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis took a fascinating look at New York’s long battle against infectious disease – a fight involving government, urban planners, medical professionals, businesses and activists. The exhibition, at the Museum of the City of New York, was developed with the New York Academy of Medicine.
Contagious Cities: Far Away, Too Close explored the psychological and emotional dimensions of disease and contagion, particularly in relation to people’s ways of life. Co-produced by the art and heritage teams at Hong Kong's Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, it included an art exhibition featuring local and international artists, and a heritage exhibition that looked at the historical context of the bubonic plague.
Koexistenz at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin was a collaboration between artists and scientists that explored the relationship between humans, animals and viruses. It included artistic commissions by Simon Faithfull and Sybille Neumeyer.
Interactive storytelling experiences
In Berlin, New York and Hong Kong, interactive tours and guided walks offered insights into the history of outbreaks and disease in the area.
Click the links below to learn more about each initiative.
Multimedia artist Sybille Neumeyer creates an artistic walk that traces stories of influenza, pandemics and viruses in and around Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde.
The Tenement Museum offers a series of tours of its historic tenement buildings – telling stories of disease, medicine and immigration related to the lives of former residents.
The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences develop an app for the Taipingshan Medical Heritage Trail, exploring the history of plague in the area.
In partnership with BBC Radio 3 and Cast Iron Radio, five writers considered the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Listen on BBC Sounds.
New York Public Radio's WNYC series of engrossing narratives chronicled the relationship between cities and contagious disease.
Brooklyn Historical Society dedicated several episodes of its award-winning podcast Flatbush + Main to the history of disease and public health in Brooklyn.
An episode of BBC World Service's The Evidence, recorded at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, looked at how the city has been shaped by epidemics following the SARS outbreak.
Various events ran across the cities. Here are some of the highlights:
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space helped local communities to explore the idea of contagion through community projects.
- Art in Hospital presented a series of art workshops, exhibitions and activities exploring people’s memories and experiences of disease.
- Asia Art Archive hosted a series of talks and workshops focusing on zines as a self-published medium.
- New York Public Library showcased more than one hundred years of mapping contagion in the city.
- New York Academy of Medicine ran a fascinating series of public events alongside the Germ City exhibition.
- The Robert Koch Institute developed a short film documenting the history of contagion in the 21st century related to Robert Koch’s discoveries.
News and opinion
Contagious Cities has been developed by Wellcome in collaboration with:
- Art in Hospital
- Asia Art Archive
- BBC Radio 3
- BBC World Service: The Evidence
- Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité
- Brooklyn Historical Society
- Cast Iron Radio
- Charité Institute of Virology
- Graduate Center of the City University of New York
- Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
- Humboldt University of Berlin
- Museum für Naturkunde
- Museum of the City of New York
- New York Academy of Medicine
- New York Public Library
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space
- Robert Koch Institute
- Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts
- Tenement Museum
- The University of Hong Kong
- World Health Organization.