Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Exhibition Review

Dirty secrets

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 25 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3231
  1. Sophie Cook, assistant editor, BMJ
  1. scook{at}

Changes in our relationship with dirt are inextricably linked to advances in our health. Sophie Cook enjoyed this fascinating yet filthy exhibition

It’s hard to imagine a whole exhibition devoted to dirt. But when you think a bit harder, dirt in the physical rather than the metaphorical sense is all around us, and humans are responsible for most of its generation. We are dirty.

The current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection takes an in-depth look at the relationships that humans have with dirt, defined for the purpose of the exhibition as dust, excrement, rubbish, bacteria, and soil. Some people don’t mind it; others are obsessively repulsed by it, but we are all exposed to dirt, and it is closely intertwined with science, hygiene, health, and status. In the past dirt was responsible for high rates of communicable diseases in overcrowded cities, and sadly this remains the case in some parts of the world. Our increased generation of rubbish and pollutants threatens to harm us and our environment in the future.

The exhibition considers properties, dangers, and other ideas relating to dirt in six different locations and times. Not all of the exhibits are …

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