Exhibitions Temporary exhibition


9 April - 10 August 2003

“When shed in war, it infuriates and repels; when coursing through our veins, it gives pleasure and life: it stands in testimony to both life and horror. It is blood, that vital fluid, man’s companion in all aspects of his life – physical, ideological and even spiritual.”
Arlette Farge, historian, 1988

Blood – that familiar yet mysterious substance that at once fascinates us and stirs our curiosity.

Man and the society in which he lives is characterized by blood. This may be why all cultures make constant reference to the metaphorical power of blood. Whether the society’s defining characteristic is a sacrifice guaranteeing divine protection or hereditary traits transmitted by blood, the ties that bind its members are grounded in blood. Conversely, it is by spilling blood that society punishes and casts out its misfits. The images connected with blood innervate all aspects of human endeavour, from the words we use to the shows we see.

The exhibition invites the visitor to reflect on a number of questions concerning everyday social and cultural events and the contemporary use of blood. What use do we make of blood? Why do we store it, spill it, donate it or sell it? Medicine and law refer to the higher principle of life and imagine other ways of replacing blood and preserving life. For those States that, like Switzerland, recognize the principle of the law of blood, nationality is transmitted by blood.

We are told that modern warfare is “clean”. Yet blood, notably that of civilians, continues to be spilled. Documentaries take us to the heart of the vision shared by peace brigade members who risk their lives as “human shields”. Objects made by prisoners remind us of the role of ICRC delegates to protect detainees.

Two-thirds of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have blood-related activities. Voluntary blood donations are a means of integrating into society and are a vital component of health services, but they are also related to a market and to awareness campaigns in which humanitarian organizations participate. The wealth of posters making up the Museum’s collection reflects that activity and the medical, social and ethical issues at stake.