With the global mental health movement augmenting the reach of Big Pharma far beyond developed countries, there has been an increase in clinical diagnoses, prescriptions and treatments in low-resource and developing countries. In several countries in the Asia Pacific region, the predominant model in viewing healthcare remains the biomedical one. Institutions continue to be open, and users of psychiatry and allied services continue to be medicated without enough other interventions and options like arts-based therapies, therapy, indigenous interventions, and community-based initiatives. This means, for instance, that farmers in India are being prescribed anti-depressants in response to rising farmer suicide, instead of addressing the socioeconomic factors at the root of this tragic reality and creating interventions at the broader economic and political level. Drought-affected, debt-ridden farmers may need better policies – not pills. Such examples abound in the Asia Pacific region.
In this context, Markus Sjöborg’s critical-artistic work examining Big Pharma speaks to us. We share this in the hope of starting more such conversations and inspiring creative practitioners in our region undertake such projects closer home.
Per os: By mouth; orally
Markus Sjöborg is a Swedish artist and researcher-activist whose current project Per Os is a sharp research-based examination of Big Pharma and its pernicious influence on mental healthcare and society. An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is currently ongoing (until 10 July) to help generate the funds Markus requires for an exhibition of artworks he is producing. These form the culmination of investigative work done by a team that includes several researchers, psychiatrists and experts, besides himself. In his words, “People need to hear and see what is rarely talked about or made public. This is why all works in the exhibition will make direct reference to research articles, allowing the visitor to do their own investigations. … My aim is to make the art work and its research references as public as possible using different kinds of channels, methods and interventions.”
About the Per os Project
In Markus’s words:
For the past 3 years, as part of my artistic practice, I have been researching the connection between pharmaceutical companies and our society, healthcare and psychiatry, predominantly in the US, the UK and Sweden. As some of us already know, this is a big – and sometimes dirty – business that capitalizes on people’s illnesses, where paramount importance is often given to making money rather than to patients’ health or actual recovery.
When I read and studied existing research and carried out my own activist surveys, what I found out made me furious! For the past 3 years, I myself have been able to be prescribed antidepressants over the phone without even speaking to a doctor. I have not taken these but instead I use them in the object above, an ongoing process much like saving coins.
The majority of the information I found out during this work had me asking, “do people know about this?!” It also got me thinking “if they don’t know about it, they really need to know!”. People need to hear and see what is rarely talked about or made public. This is why all works in the exhibition will make direct reference to research articles, allowing the visitor to do their own investigations. I urge you not to believe what I say but to do your own research.
The research has been conducted based on:
• Available research such as scientific articles, lectures and news articles
• Correspondence with numerous researchers and experts in predominantly Sweden, the US and the UK that aid the project with their expert knowledge in their fields.
• Activist surveys
My aim is to make the art work and its research references as public as possible using different kinds of channels, methods and interventions.
Much of the actual art work is being created at Konstnärernas Kollektivverkstad Monumental, a collective workshop/studio in Malmö (as seen in the trailer above).
“Big Pharma” is impacting on us and our peers on a daily basis – whether we are aware of it or not – and as people we are the ones that can and will be able to change this injustice. Help me show people what is happening and give them choice in their lives again by highlighting this important topic and that a change of course is required.