The Beast Within

October 6, 2011 § Leave a comment


Giardia is a genus of  protozoan parasites of the phylum Metamonada that colonise and reproduce in the small intestines of several vertebrates, causing giardiasis, which is commonly known as Beaver fever. Chief pathways of human infection include ingestion of untreated sewage, a phenomenon particularly common in many developing countries; contamination of natural waters also occurs in watersheds where intensive grazing occurs.

This is the first sketch from a series that will be used to make four or five large scale drawings of human parasites measuring 1.5m x 1.5m. I am creating these drawings in collaboration with Prof Matthew Cobb, Prof Kathryn Else and Dr Sheena Cruickshank from the Faculty of Life Sciences at Manchester University.

By drawing these parasites on a human scale – or at least on the scale of human children – I hope to create a visceral contrast between the strange beauty of these organisms and the horrific nature of their impact upon human beings. This beauty is especially apparent when seen from a safe distance through the medium of the electron microscope …

Though some might find allusions to science fiction and Hollywood body horror to be apparent  in these drawings, the actual experience of coming to terms with these organisms is significantly more challenging. When I visited the Department of Life Sciences at Manchester University I was shown a video of a whipworm infestation in a young girl’s intestines. This image will live with me forever; although fortunately  it is only an image in my mind, not a hideous writhing mass within my intestinal tract.

One of the many strange things about these parasitic organisms – aside from any consideration of their remarkable, otherworldly forms – is that they imbue barely discovered immunological benefits to the host. Thus our quite visceral reactions, our disgust, has to be tempered by an emerging understanding of the complexity of our physically enmeshed relationship with these species.


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