Friday, February 11, 2011

Wellcome Collection London curiosity exhibition - chastity belts, shrunken heads, torture chair, enough said


Come to think of it, we shouldn't be surprised. Frankly, you can't expect anything less from an entrepreneur who was also a philanthropist, patron of science and pioneer of aerial photography. Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, borned in 1853, left a huge collection of curiosities that continue to fascinate us till this day.

Medicine Man, one of the two permanent exhibitions at Wellcome Collection, which is just opposite London's Euston train/tube station, gives us a glimpse of the cultures, places and people that Wellcome came across in his travels.


The exhibition, currently located on Wellcome Collection's first floor, houses an eclectic mixture of curiosities. Under the 'Chairs' section, three ancient chairs awaits: a dentist chair, a birthing chair and even a Chinese torture chair complete with rusty razor blades that would put Jaws to shame.


Further down along the longish room you'll find knives, saws, hooks and forceps that were used in gruesome operations. Prosthetic hands, arms and legs hung eerily in a glass display nearby. In a display case aptly named 'Understanding The Body' contains male anti-masturbation devices that would make the most macho of men wince. Just beside that lies Chinese porcelain fruits and vegetable that open up to show tiny figurines in erotic scenes.


There are other items in the Collection that any collectors would gladly trade their mothers for - a walking stick with a small sinister looking skeleton belonging to Charles Darwin, an embroidered shoe for the bounded feet, glass eye made by Halford of London at the turn of the 19th century. Other items included a dried gall bladder and, wait for it, a shrunken head. One could easily spend a good two hours in the dimly lit exhibition room.


Just beside the Medicine Man exhibition lies the other permanent exhibition - Medicine Now. While less intriguing than Medicine Man, this exhibition explores the advancement and ideas about science and medicine after Henry Wellcome's death in 1936, throws up some interesting displays. Divided into four main sections: The Body, Genomes, Malaria and Obesity, it is the last section that left the largest impression on me. John Issac sculpture work in 2003, which body of fat is so grotesquely huge that it appeared to engulfed its own head, captured the gist of the entire section.


While the Wellcome Collection's Medicine Man and to a lesser extent Medicine Now may come across as a dressed up Ripley's, it nevertheless still worth a visit if you are in the area. If you have just enough time for one, go straight to the Medicine Man. Else, set aside an afternoon for the Wellcome Collection.

Wellcome Collection
Admission Free
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
Tel: 020 7611 2222

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