West of Sumer, Arts Corridor and Foyer, University Hospital Galway


Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (UK), Tom Molloy (IE), Sophia Rosamund Praeger (IE), Diana Scherer (DE/NL), Lydia Shackleton (IE), Françoise Sergy (CH/UK)


IMBOLC, Monday 10th February – Sunday 20th September. Exhibition closed to the public.

Supported by
  • Galway 2020
  • Saolta Arts
  • Saolta University Health Care Group
  • Chelsea Physic Garden
  • Irish Museum of Modern Art
  • National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

…we will always need plants, even if plants don’t need us. Even today, with our urban and high tech lives, we are still made and changed by nature.

– Françoise Sergy on her art and science project The Fox Got You

Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture presents West of Sumer as part of The Deepest Shade of Green

In an exploration of plants known for their associations with modern medicine and traditional herbal remedies, West of Sumer is the first exhibition of The Deepest Shade of Green. Including botanical art, drawing, and photography, the exhibition features the work of artists interested in the collection, classification, control, and reproduction of the natural world.

The healing properties of plants have been harnessed since the earliest cuneiform records – writing systems and science developing in tandem as knowledge spread across centuries and borders. Copied by hand, translations of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica circulated to form the core of 19th-century European pharmaceutical knowledge, whilst voyages and botanical gardens exchanged specimen for study. Some 5000 years after the Sumerians scribed the first herbal preparations in clay, today’s global pharmaceutical network still harvests the fields and gardens of Europe and synthesises nature in the quest to heal.

West of Sumer includes botanical art by 14 members of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society and others by Sophia Rosamund Praeger and Lydia Shackleton on loan from the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. Selected from an original partnership between Chelsea Physic Garden and the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, the work of the Florilegium Society presents plants used to treat conditions of the heart and lungs. Those featured in Praeger’s original pen and ink illustrations for the book Open‐Air Studies in Botany by her brother, the naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, have been selected for their associations with cures for kidney and urinary complaints. Shackleton’s watercolours, originally intended as teaching aids for the National Museum of Ireland, portray Irish native wild flora connected to the treatment of tuberculosis and found growing in the grounds of Merlin Park University Hospital, Galway’s former sanatorium.

After moving to the Burren, Tom Molloy became interested in the collection, classification and registration of the natural world carried out by botanists in the area. Focusing on 32 individual leaves from one particular oak tree to query how we arrive at the general idea of a species, his work Oak is on loan from the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Diana Scherer’s photographic portraits of Nettle and Dandelion reveal the root systems of plants she has grown from seed within the confines of a vase as part of an ongoing enquiry into our relationship with nature and the desire to control it. Other photographic works in the exhibition by Françoise Sergy trace the global journey of plants used in the pharmaceutical industry, from field, to lab, to factory. These have been selected from her art and science project The Fox Got You which celebrates six common plants at the origin of five major drugs, and she began as a way of saying thank you to the plant Goat’s Rue, which indirectly keeps her alive.

Following Government guidance in relation to measures to contain COVID-19, West of Sumer closed to the general public in line with visiting restrictions in place at hospitals in the Saolta Group but was extended to 20 September for hospital patients and frontline workers.


Header image: Physician preparing an elixir – 1224 Arabic edition of De Materia Medica – Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD), public domain
Thumbnail image: Limehurst by Françoise Sergy
Film © Tom Flanagan