“Coming Back” (2022) is based on the idea of how when tuberculosis (TB) is discussed people often say “Oh, I hear it’s coming back”, and frequently blame immigration for this. But this term ‘coming back’ is truer than they think, because genomic research has shown that the main strain of TB now circulating in India (the country with the highest burden of TB in the world) is the Euro-American strain. This strain was taken over to India by British and European colonialists and spread rapidly amongst the population who had little immunity to it.
This antique door has been carved with textures that are reminiscent of the damage caused in the lung by tuberculosis. The antique door handle comes from a former TB sanatorium and is marked with the two-bar cross, the symbol of the American Lung Association’s ‘crusade’ against TB. The carvings and door handle have been inoculated with DNA from the Euro-American TB strain. The painted forms remind us of TB multiplying inside cells as the disease spreads in populations.
Tuberculosis is currently the second-leading infectious killer after COVID-19 and will likely return to the number one position again soon. During the COVID-19 pandemic TB rates also rose because the symptoms of lung infection and night sweats are similar to COVID-19, and because medical help was reduced.
This work, and the research that inspired it, shows us that disease cannot be shut out and that genomics research can reveal unexpected stories. It tells of the impact of colonialism on modern disease and seems prescient in terms of recent border closures, traffic light systems and quarantines. Health is a global issue and needs global solutions.
Inspired by the research of Dr Tim Walker, Modernising Medical Microbiology/CRyPTIC, University of Oxford. Supported by Arts Council England
Materials: Wood, antique brass door handle, TB DNA from the Euro-American strain, paint
“Collateral Effects” at the North Wall Oxford, UK, 5th – 29th October 2022.