2017 DUMA Biennial artist, Molly Wood

Molly Wood, Des Moines, Iowa
Ricinus with Book, 2016, photograph, 20×20

I am a photographer who creates digital color images of toxic and medicinal botanicals. I use only natural light and style the photographs to resemble Dutch still-life paintings. The photos are printed as large-scale images, much larger than life, so that the viewer can closely examine every detail of these complex plants.

The Fatal Flora series evolved from my interest in the history of women who made their place in society by using their knowledge of the properties of botanicals. This expertise could range from culinary, to medicinal, to deadly. Often the same plants used to nurture and feed loved ones could be used in another way to heal the sick. Different parts of these same plants could also be prepared in yet other ways to be poisonous. Women who had botanical knowledge could be perceived as a threat to medical and clerical professions and were sometimes accused of practicing witchcraft. Botanical knowledge became dangerous knowledge and was the start of a long and
complex history of power struggles and gender conflicts.

I seek out plants that were present in women’s Medieval and Renaissance medicinal gardens or were referred to in historical texts. When possible, I cultivate and grow these plants at home so that I can watch the changes they go through during their life cycles.

Plants that contain the potential to be toxic are extremely complex in their structures. Their appearance and their potency changes drastically depending upon the timing of the growth cycles – from bud to bloom to seed pod. I use these botanicals as metaphors for my own life experiences. Situations and relationships that can be beautiful, seductive, nurturing, life-sustaining, and healthy when experienced in one way can also become toxic and poisonous when circumstances are changed or out of balance.