Grounded in research and process, Uriel Orlow's practice encompassing film, photography, installation, and sound works explore the ongoing impact of colonialism, spatial manifestations of memory, and the notion of plants as political entities.Read More
In his video installation at Taipei Biennial 2020, Uriel Orlow deals with Artemisia afra, an indigenous medicinal plant that effectively treats and prevents malaria and can be taken as an infusion. Nevertheless, it is not recommended as a treatment by the World Health Organisation, which favours the pharmaceutical industry and its global reach.
In 2019, malaria still killed a child every few minutes and the parasite that causes it is becoming ever more drug resistant. In the 1970s, research to develop new anti-malarial drugs led to the discovery and extraction of artemisinin from the Chinese variety of Artemisia used for two thousand years—and now patented in medications.
However, resistance is now also increasing against the extracted artemisinin. At the same time it has become evident that the non-extractive use of the whole plant is still effective, yet the plant is prohibited in many parts of Europe. Artemisia afra grows in different parts of Africa including the Congo and contains no artemisin (but a potent cocktail of minerals, including abundant copper); not only does it resist drug resistance but it also resists extractive medicine. In the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo whose colonial and postcolonial economy has been dominated by various forms of extraction (mainly of minerals), Artemisia afra can help us to imagine much needed non-extractive relationships to natural resources as well as local and sustainable healthcare solutions and forms of solidarity.
The biennale is hoping audiences will grant them a do-over after the initial launch was marred by the ousting of curator Théo-Mario Coppola.
A number of academics and artists have been placing plants within a wider geopolitical context, using them to consider and re-evaluate obliterated political, social, economic and spiritual narratives.