Ambulante / Street Vendor


By reflecting on the results from the Buzzing project, I conducted an ethnographic research carried out with street vendors to explore traditional medicine and natural healing practices linked to dengue fever.

As part of this project I released a series of recordings under the name Lurking Inside the City, and a film titled Street seller talks, mosquito lurks

I also invited Hernan Marin, a Medellin-based artist, to work with me to redesign posters against mosquito-borne diseases, while exploring four categories that came from the participants’ responses: Fear, Natural Healing, Anger, Death.

We used a collage technique to visually represent how non-academic participants symbolically constructed their experience of mosquitoes.

In the poster called ‘fear’ we decided to work with the idea of buzzing sounds and blood-sucking processes. As inspiration, we used the comment from a participant who argued that the mosquito buzzing is like having ‘a vacuum cleaner or a jukebox hovering over your head’. We integrated this idea with an image of a naked person being bitten by a mosquito.

Another poster was designed to reproduce the idea of ‘natural healing’. While interviewing some street vendors I discovered that there was a variety of plants used to treat diseases like dengue or chikungunya, and to keep mosquitoes away, including eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinerea), matarraton (Gliricidia sepium), ruda (Ruta graveolens), and palosanto (Burseraceae family, possibly Bursera graveolens).

A street vendor explained: ‘Eucalyptus is used to drive the mosquitoes from the house. It’s cooked until it produces vapor, and the vapor drives the zancudos away. Matarraton is used to counteract the fever that the little animal produces. You can prepare baths with it or you can drink it. You can also use ruda; that is a plant with a very bad odor and, therefore, it is used to drive the insects away. And finally, if you leave the palosanto in a little bowl, it will be good because palosanto has an odor that mosquitoes and zancudos don’t like. It also drives them away.’

Another participant, associated mosquitoes and dengue with the feeling of ‘death’: ‘People have died from dengue and there have been dengue epidemics where people die. A zancudo [mosquito] is not as harmless as you can imagine, because it can bring death to some people, is it true or not? If you just look at it, you will say: nothing will happen, but it’s not true, because it does happen.’

Anger’ was another feeling against mosquitoes and dengue: ‘Fever, everything, ailment, the zancudo produces everything. An animal like that...No, an animal like that just infuriates you. You get rage, you don't feel so happy, you don't feel yourself. I don't particularly take interest in that little animal. That little animal doesn't capture my interest. No, hey, how can an animal like that interest you?’

This project has been featured in SciArtMagazine