The exhibition is based on the collection of some 600 picture postcards belonging to pharmacist and clinical pharmacologist Peter de Smet, and is augmented with cards and related objects from the museum’s collection. In this setting, objects such as disease masks and wax casts of body parts are put in a new perspective.
Curiosity and propaganda
The picture postcard flourished in the period between 1890 and 1930. Few could afford a trip to the colonies, and picture postcards with exotic illustrations served as evidence of the existence of another world. Evocative picture postcards of magic healers and never before seen methods of treatment prompted wonder, jealousy and astonishment. As a result of this Western interest in the strange and exotic, picture postcards appeared that showed people with tropical diseases and physical defects. Postcards of people with deformities were also popular. In this context patients were presented as attractions. In addition to this commercial purpose, medical postcards were also used as propaganda for missionary work in the colonies. Efforts to spread the Christian faith were accompanied by projects to build schools and hospitals. Photographs were distributed in postcard form in order to keep those at home informed and to raise money for the medical endeavours in the tropics. In many cases the photos were taken by amateur photographs, often the missionaries themselves.
From scientific source to entertainment
Beliefs about sickness and healing
Disease prevention and control
Native American medicine man. Alaska, United States. Collection Peter De Smet.
A crippled man enjoying his sigar. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Collection Peter De Smet.
Man with elephantiasis, the swelling and forming of thicker skin of one or several body parts. Collection Peter De Smet.
Leprosy care. Nurse with a patient. Dahomey, Benin. Collection Peter De Smet.
Transport to the hospital in Madagascar. Collection Peter De Smet.
Woman with suction pads on the head as a pain relief, Congo. Collection Peter De Smet.