“The Clinic and Elsewhere” – forthcoming book from Todd Meyers

Trailer for “The Clinic and Elsewhere”, Meyers discussing his new ethnography about Baltimore adolescents as both ‘addicts’ and ‘patients’.


Dissertation full of WORDS

Dissertation word cloud

This is as close as I can bring myself to look at my dissertation again right now, after submitting at the start of December. I’m supposed to be rewriting it as a pamphlet for the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, and as a research proposal for PhD funding applications, but so far I’ve barely dared to look at it again for fear of it being terrible.

Infinitas Gracias and Charmed Life at Wellcome Collection, London

I was lucky enough to catch the brilliant ‘Miracles and Charms‘ exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection in London this weekend in between sessions at the Historical Materialism conference. ‘Miracles and Charms’ is actually two exhibitions, about belief and healing in London and in Mexico. Wellcome Collection is one of my favourite places in London, it’s as if someone made it especially for me, to indulge all of my geekiness under one roof.

The Infinitas Gracias exhibition, mainly composed of ex voto paintings, was amazing. Mexico has a rich artistic history, and for me on of the most intersting things about ex votos is how accessable and non-elitist they are – anyone could commission or paint their own, detailing the moment when a Saint was invoked to save the day – often but not always in medical emergencies. The paintings range from very simple to very elaborate, always showing the saint(s) to whom the piece is dedicated appearing above the scene of the crisis is a puff of smoke, with the story written down at the bottom of the page. The pictures appear in churches and shrines as public testimony to the power of the saints, and the exhibition showed how this tradition is continued and adapted with public offerings, prayers and testimonies gathered from a church in Jalisco also on display.

ex voto painting

'On 1 September 1937 I was attacked and wounded in my face and as a result I became ill and had to have an operation in a hospital in Monterrey. I asked Saint Francis of Real de Catorce with all my faith for my recovery, promising him this retablo. (Juan M. Perez).'

The ex voto, and the variations of it’s modern form, are an art form that anyone can create and are never intended to be commodities, to me this is why they’re so fascinating, they’re so different from the elitist, exclusionary art that seems to dominate elsewhere.

Next door, the Charmed Life exhibition shows Felicity Powell’s response to the amazing range of folkloric objects collected around working class areas of London in the not-so-distant past, used for luck, protection and healing. Glass beads to prevent bronchitis, red coral charms for good health, and loads of other awesome amulets and charms kept in pockets. Powell’s own work in response to the objects is also really beautiful.

Charmed Life was really intersting for me as it showed how prevalent folkloric and magical ideas about health and healing have been in London in the recent past, normally in anthropology (or maybe this is just me), magic and healing is something I associate with ‘the Other’  to a certain extent, but clearly this isn’t at all accurate.

Both of the exhibitions do a brilliant job of looking at the art, beliefs, creativity and innovation of ordinary working class people both in London and in Mexico, and are well worth a visit.


Guatemala, Mexico and USA in the Guardian

A few really interesting articles in The Guardian recently.

This article about the US syphilis study in Guatemala, where orphans, prostitutes, conscripts and prisoners were deliberately infectd with diseases so they could then be studied.

More than half of the subjects were low-ranking soldiers delivered by their superiors to US physicians working from a military base in the capital. The Americans initially arranged for infected prostitutes to have sex with prisoners before discovering it was more “efficient” to inject soldiers, psychiatric patients and orphans with the bacterium.

Guatemala’s official inquiry, headed by its vice-president, is due to publish its report in June. “What impacted me the most was how little value was given to these human lives. They were seen as things to be experimented on,” said Carlos Mejia, a member of the inquiry and head of the Guatemalan College of Physicians.

Next up, an article about the Peace Caravan touring Mexico in protest of Calderon’s War on Drugs. 40,000 people have lost their lives in Mexico since Calderon began his campaign, including the son of Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet, who was killed, presumably by drug gangs. The protest is calling for an end to the “force-based strategy” and instead asks the government to tackle the underlying poverty that fuels the drugs trade. It seems that a lot of the press focusses on the caravan protesting “drug violence”, which implies the cartels and reinforces the idea that the relatives of the deceased are asking for the government to fight harder, when in fact this is not the case. In an open letter, Javier Silicia addresses both the “political class” and the criminal gangs,

If you, “señores” politicians do not govern well and do not take seriously that we live in a state of national emergency that requires your unity, and you, “señores” criminals, do not limit your actions, you will end up winning and having power but you will govern and reign over a mountain of ossuaries and of beings that are beaten and destroyed in their souls, a dream that none of us envy.

The protest is not just about the gangs, it is very much about the “bad government” and their actions, too.

Javier Sicilia addresses crowds at a protest against the drug war

Javier Sicilia addresses crowds at a protest against the drug war

Further north, the Guardian brings us a report about prescription painkiller addiction in the US, where Florida is doing booming business in oxycodone, all fun and games until someone looses an eye (or overdoses and dies). Although a few people are getting super-rich off it, so at least that’s one good thing…