Koen Vanmechelen’s Book of Genome added to the collection of the National Museum of Ethiopia

Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen and the International Livestock Research Institute presented ’The Book of Genome’, to the National Museum of Ethiopia, also known as the LUCY musuem. Vanmechelen’s artwork is part of the larger art-science installation “Incubated Worlds” that was inaugurated at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute on the 26th of April.

Vanmechelen: ‘We are honored to present these artworks to the National Museum of Ethiopia. The Books of Genome celebrate the beauty of diversity, that originated here, in this part of the world. It honors the generosity of the local as a prerequisite for the existence of global diversity. It is also a tribute to cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration in solving some of the world’s toughest challenges.’

The two ‘Book of Genome’ artworks, developed using state of the art DNA-mapping technologies, present the diversity of artist Koen Vanmechelen’s Cosmopolitan Chicken, carrying genetic diversity from more than 20 regions worldwide on one hand and the Indigenous Ethiopian Chicken on the other. They include the genetic code, transcribed into Ethiopia’s Amharic language, of the first Ethiopian chicken to have its genome sequenced and the DNA code of the 20th generation of the Cosmopolitan Chicken. The letters in the book indicate every place where the genetic makeup differs from the reference chicken considered as standard, while the numeral indicate the number of DNA basis that are identical to those of the standard reference genome. The two artworks are always presented together, indicating the importance and interrelation of global and local.

ILRI Scientific advisor Prof. Olivier Hanotte explains: “These books are not simply a succession of letters, they are an encyclopedia of stories, they link Ethiopia, the cradle of civilization, visually and scientifically with the diversity that has developed throughout the world, they connect past and present and hold the potential for the future.” Dr. Siboniso Moyo, ILRI’s director general’s representative in Ethiopia, highlights the importance of art and science coming together in this development: “We hope that with this work, that is both art and science, we can contribute to understanding the history of diversity in Ethiopia. Art will help our people understand the true importance of indigenous diversity in Ethiopia. We believe that it is through art that the importance and potential of diversity can be brought to a larger audience. We hope that this work of art is an important contribution to raising awareness that we have to do what we can to maintain our diversity as we build the future”.

It is significant that these books find a home in the National Museum of Ethiopia, being the cradle of civilization and the home of Lucy; the world’s most well-known fossil from the early hominids.