Gayle Chong Kwan

24th June 2020

The Whitewash Brigade

I developed a series of eight photographic works, Quarantine Archipelago (2019), for the exhibition Faraway, Too Close, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and the Arts, Hong Kong and Wellcome Trust, in 2019. I carried out research at the Wellcome Library on quarantine islands and pandemics.

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I was fascinated by the confluence of the Plague in Hong Kong in 1894 with the increasing use of photography, and the images which document the experience of the plague and attempts to contain it. The Hong Kong epidemic also led to the discovery of the pathogenic agent of plague (the bacterium Yersinia pestis) by the Pasteurian doctor Alexandre Yersin. British colonial authorities carried out measures for stamping out the disease, many of which were detested by Hong Kong inhabitants, particularly by house-to-house visits and the Shropshire Regiment’s so-called Whitewash Brigade, shown here in the photograph.

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1906 Hospital Ship Hygea 0
Small Pox Hulk Hygeia 1905 Kennedy Town 0 copy
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Hong Kong plague medal