“Cholera Dress” (2023) comprises an altered antique 1850s bodice and skirt, as might have been worn by female sex workers who used the water pump in Broad Street in London during the 1854 cholera epidemic. John Snow famously removed the handle of the pump after tracing it as the cause of the outbreak. This pivotal moment is considered to be the start of modern epidemiology as is embroidered on the skirt.
The numerous holes in the fragile silk are patched and darned symbolizing the ongoing development of scientific progress and knowledge. The bodice and skirt are botanically printed in two stages with eucalyptus leaves and logwood chips to reference remedies used by pioneering British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole around the same time which she then believed could treat the disease. However, since that time our understanding of this deadly disease has moved on and rehydration therapies have proved to be very effective.
The pandemic strain of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae known as El Tor produces a toxin that causes the terrifying symptoms of the disease. But this toxin production is itself the result of an infection, the bacterium has caught a virus known as CTXφ bacteriophage. Only cholera bacteria infected with this bacteriophage produce the toxin.
The dress is impregnated with extracted cholera DNA, emphasizing the importance of understanding and combating this deadly disease. The “Cholera Dress” is a powerful reminder of the invaluable contributions made by individuals like John Snow and Mary Seacole in the field of public health and their impact in saving lives. The DNA was extracted in collaboration with Dr Matthew Dorman and Professor Nicholas Thomson, from the Thomson Group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the piece is inspired by their ground-breaking and important research. The “Cholera Dress” is a powerful reminder of the invaluable contributions made by individuals like John Snow and Mary Seacole, as well as contemporary researchers in the field of public health and their impact in saving lives.
Credit: Anna Dumitriu, in collaboration with Dr Matthew Dorman and Professor Nicholas Thomson, Thomson Group, Wellcome Sanger Institute.
Materials: Altered 1840s-50s era bodice and skirt, hand embroidery, botanically printed with eucalyptus and logwood, and impregnated with extracted DNA from the pandemic strain of Vibrio cholerae.
As part of the “Collateral Effects” project supported by Arts Council England.
Wellcome Sanger, Hinxton near Cambridge (UK), as part of Works by Anna Dumitriu, 12th January – 28th February 2023.
BioArt Revolution/ Revoluția BioArt, an innovative solo exhibition by Anna Dumitriu which brought together contemporary artistic approaches and modern scientific experiments to address issues of global relevance such as infection, climate change, and diversity. The show took place as part of Timișoara 2023 European Capital of Culture, from 30th September to 1st October 2023. The exhibition, which was created in collaboration with the Romanian Science Festival, took place in the stunning setting of Bastionul Maria Theresia, Galeria 2, Str. Hector, nr. 1, Timișoara, Romania.
BioArt Knowledge: A Solo Exhibition by Anna Dumitriu at the Yarrow Gallery in Oundle, Near Peterborough, UK, from 9th November – 6th December 2023.