Exhibitions

Medicine Man

Closes 27 November 2022
  • Free
  • Permanent exhibition
Photograph of a man and a woman wearing face coverings exploring a museum gallery. The woman is wearing a yellow knitted jumper and a pair of blue jeans. The man is wearing a blue shirt and dark trousers. It is a dark gallery with spot lit exhibits and wooden panelled walls. The couple are standing side by side to the right of the frame in mid discussion about objects in a display case. To the left of the frame is the large glass display case they are looking at, containing several objects, from vases to models of the human head to small cabinets.

Sir Henry Wellcome was a collector who, through his agents, amassed well over a million books, paintings and objects from around the world, aiming to tell a global story of health and medicine.  

‘Medicine Man’ was our free permanent display of a small part of that huge collection. The exhibition showed extraordinary examples of the many ways in which people, through time and across cultures, sought to understand the workings of the human body, to protect themselves, and care for one another.

It included a wide range of objects relating to sex, birth and death, a unique collection of votive offerings, and a range of extraordinary anatomical models in wood, ivory and wax dating back to the 17th century. 

Colonial power shaped how the collection was put together and understood. In 2021 we installed a series of interventions in the exhibition in which artists and writers responded to an exhibit of their choice. Addressing the collection’s colonial legacies, their responses highlighted human stories that previous histories of health and medicine had hidden or ignored. 

Medicine Man closed on 27 November, a significant turning point, as we transform how our collections are presented. Over the coming years, a major project will amplify the voices of those who have been previously erased or marginalised from museums, bringing their stories of health and humanity to the heart of our galleries.