Sunday, 11 March 2018

Ayurvedic medicine and Wellcome and colonialism

The Wellcome collection on Euston Road shows many a wonderful exhibition for the 'incurably curious' they say. 

Since November 2017 has curated "Ayruvedic Man: Encounters with Indian Medicine"  an exhibition which runs for one more month to April 8th 2018.


Ayurveda translates roughly in English to 'the knowledge of long life'. The knowledge of which Dr. Paira Mall was sent in 1911 by Wellcome to gather from India for the use of the pharmaceutical giant.
It's complicated and layered story is put together in a very simply put together in a darkened room with many different types of media, photo's, film, song, and text, and you can move through the myriad of information relatively easily and without too much of a crowd.
Dr. Paira Mall
Dr Mall, an Anglo-Indian bought up by an 'English lady' who was raised to be a missionary, but 'preferred' medicine, and so continued his medical studies, he served as a surgeon in the Asia-Russia war, and competent in Hindi, English, French, German, Sanskrit, Persian, Punjabi, Arabic and some Japanese. By any account this was a highly educated man, with many valuable skills, and a great communicator it seems with many cultures in many languages.
Correspondence shows however Dr. Mall faced issues with financing from Wellcome, and disappears from the archives it seems, possibly and every freelancer will attest to this, because he asked to be paid once too often.
Some of the language used in the letters and the way that he is described comes over as condescending  on occasion. The feeling is conveyed that while Dr Mall was valuable in his own way, the rich white men in the Wellcome office saw him as a means to an end.
This exhibition also highlighted, that although Ayurvedic medicine has been around for many years, it has been stripped of it's holistic approach to treating patients when translated to Western medicine to fit in with 'new age' principles. Again this perspective that Indian medicine is simply meant to 'fit in' with western ideology, even beyond colonialism.
Ayurveda looks at chakras, personality type, diet and suchlike before moving onto prescribing medications. Practitioners also attributed some types of disease to Gods and Goddesses, western colonial influences used derogatory terms to discredit this type of diagnosis, but it seems they were more than happy to accept the medication that worked very well.

Thie exhibition blurb says itself that it raises questions about who owns medical heritage, and what's appropriate here, and in one of the videos a bushman describes how he must share the knowledge, for it isn't everyone that can afford to take a car to the city hospital.
Much has been lost in the teachings of Ayurvedic Medicine which is passed from generation to generation in the old fashioned way of simply imparting knowledge and age old texts thrown away because the holders had unwittingly known what they contained.
In the exhibit the point was made people are just looking for one tablet and a quick fix to cure them nowadays, rather than the longer process of healing that was highly effective and kept the person as a whole treated, rather than one ailment.
Dr.Rukhma Rai 1864-1955 (First) female Dr in India

I walked away from this exhibition wondering how far we've really moved from colonialism.
How much the rich and powerful may well treat a person of difference to themselves poorly and with deference unless they are personally of value to them and their riches.
But mostly how sad it is so much is lost to Indians and the generations that come of ancient healing practices in favour of modern medicine.
Hopefully the questions and debate will continue given the Wellcome has created a bold enough exhibition; even if the mainstream press have ignored the painful sting of racism and colonial barbarity and possibly greed in their reviews of this exhibition.

Galleries closed Mondays, Events with panels, debates and discussions on these issues continue here.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Glass Room, literally see- through data gathering


If you’re one of the many people who, when confronted with your internet usage and the privacy of your data say “I’ve nothing to hide”, and my articles have done nothing to dissuade you or convince you then you MUST get down to Charing Cross Road, London to “The Glass room" exhibit.
 “You’re invited to experiment and reconsider the idea that even if we think we might have nothing to hide, we should at least understand what we’re not hiding.
Many of the exhibits are innocuous 3 minute looking videos on an tablet with an attached set of headphones, but some are large digital display screens, on these you’ll be able to see in real time, how your very own mobile phone is ‘pinging’ all the time, how you appear in a display tracked, and then, even, see where you go after you’ve visited- many people were displayed as having gone to McDonalds... should I really know where to find those complete strangers again.

In there you’ll learn many things including new technological advancements, like the data TFL are collecting about you are going to the same company who works for the US armed services.
TFL are looking to grow this data to include facial recognition, palm vein scanning and object tracking- just like your mobile phone
If the fact that a US military contractor will hold the data of identifying your face, and scanning your palm leaves you in awe rather than concerned, then take for example the marketing companies are using your data to track and profile you from beyond Facebook.

Ad tech company ‘Tapad’ target you as you walk past billboards- currently taking place in Piccadilly Circus, and on Google branded buses. They’re calling it your ‘digital DNA’ collected from all your devices, even your TV, and it can tell the difference between different people in the same house.

There’s a prototype device that can care for your elderly relative when you’re not there, a device that can tell if they’ve opened their fridge today, taken their medication, slept well, and send you the updates by text message. When you piece together that they are gathering a whole lot of data, on their illness, on their sleep patterns, on their eating habits, on your loved one, which is sought after and handsomely paid for, you’ll wish you had just got up and gone to see them yourself, not to mention the fact that none of these devices can replace the human contact so many elderly people are deprived of.

You’ll learn, Google are stakeholders in UBER, in Motorola and pharmaceutical companies. 
So, when you’re using your FitBit they’re collecting all that data on you and using it to decide how much to charge you for health insurance, or deciding how likely you are to develop an illness, and influence the price of the drugs you might need.

The repercussions of all this are numerous.

Take for example 23&Me have sold 800,000 peoples DNA profiles to Pfizer. They can look at these results and tell you what diagnoses you may develop in your lifetime. You may never develop these of course, and you may never have discovered this is a potential in your DNA, but the knowledge of it could alter the course of your life, and you may make different decisions.
Heath insurers are offering cheaper fees if the buyer allows them to collect data from a FitBit.
Money lenders are already asking to look at your Facebook profile and will judge on you getting a loan or mortgage based on who your friends with- imagine they’re influencing who you’ll choose to add as a friend in the future based on money.

Its not all terrifying and gloomy, they do have a Data Detox Kit available and workshops with incredibly knowledgeable staff on hand to help you switch off all those data signals, how to fool the FitBit with it spinning on a drill, or ticking with a metronome and learn tech privacy savvy.

But it’s like they say; “You’re invited to experiment and reconsider the idea that even if we think we might have nothing to hide, we should at least understand what we’re not hiding.”

Glass Room is presented by Mozilla and Tactical Tech and runs 25th October -12th November 2017 at 69-71 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0NE