In a dark gallery at the Perez Art Museum Miami, two screens on opposite sides of the room play a pair of films on an alternating loop—one follows scientists working in a lab to create genetically modified mosquitoes, the other is a portrait of a polyamorous relationship that unfolds under the canopy of a Brazilian jungle.
This is A Mordida (The Bite), a new work by New-York-based Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Neves Marques. The piece weaves together art and science—highlighting the parallels between the terror induced by the Zika epidemic in Brazil and a sense of fear within the LGBTQ community as right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro rose to power.
"I think it's really important to say that I'm not interested in passing any judgment on the science," said Neves Marques. "But I'm more interested in the analogies that they bring out."
Zika can harm the fetuses of pregnant women who are infected with the virus—in severe cases it causes brain damage in babies—but communicating that risk has been difficult. It wasn't until 2015 that scientists even made the link between the virus and birth defects when there was a surge of infants born with microcephaly in Brazil following a Zika outbreak.
Meanwhile, the timing of A Mordida's production coincided with the rise of Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has a record of zealous homophobia.
A Mordida is a response to the dual crises. And it's intimate—there's a languid sexuality to a series of images: an illustration of a baby in utero; resting, tangled bodies of the three lovers; close-ups of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes whose abdomens grow red and fat with blood.
PAMM sits just outside where the first active clusters of the mosquito-borne Zika virus were identified in Florida more than two years ago, making it a particularly interesting place to screen its newly commissioned film installation.
"This is actually a very effective way of getting people interested in the topic," said Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor and researcher of infectious disease with the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. She's been on the frontlines of fighting Zika around the world—and WLRN invited her to the gallery to learn what she saw when she watched A Mordida.
"Dangerous creatures—whether it's a tiger or an amoeba—can be beautiful," said Marty. "I think when you explore science and realize the beauty in it, you appreciate how the organisms interact with each other throughout the scale of life."
You can hear more of that conversation here:
A Mordida is being exhibited at PAMM through July 28.