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Plague Dress

By  Anna Dumitriu 2018
Anna Dumitriu’s “Plague Dress” is on show as part of the 6th Guangzhou Triennial at Guangdong Museum of Art. The exhibition runs from 21st December 2018 to the 10th March 2019. The 1665 style ‘Plague Dress’ is made from raw silk, hand-dyed with walnut husks in reference to the famous herbalist of the era Nicholas Culpeper who recommended walnuts as a treatment for Plague. The dress is appliqued with original 17th century embroideries which the artist has impregnated with the DNA of Yesinia pestis bacteria (Plague), which she extracted from killed bacteria in the laboratory of the National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC) at Public Health England where she is artist in residence. The NCTC is the oldest and most historical collection of pathogenic bacteria in the world. The dress stuffed and surrounded by bunches lavender which were historically carried under people’s noses during the Great Plague of London to cover the stench of infection, and prevent the disease, which was believed to be caused by ‘bad air’ or ‘miasmas’ . The roll, a piece of padding typically worn under the skirt to puff it out, contains a pungent mixture of herbs and spices that would have been stuffed into beak-like masks of Plague doctors. It is particularly relevant to connect the cities of Guangzhou and London as both cities have suffered extensively from Plague. The second Plague pandemic which was responsible for the Great Plague of London is 1665 is believed to originated in the rodent population in or near China and was most likely spread along the Silk Road or by ship, perhaps even via Guangzhou which was a key trade port on the maritime Silk Road. Later the third Plague pandemic killed 60,000 people in Guangzhou in just a few weeks beginning in March 1894.
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