Fancy a Lick?


Sexually Transmitted Disease Cupcake Gift Set by Two Little Cats Bakery. £3.50

Graphical and modelled representations have long been used to help teach anatomy and pathology and I suppose that in the spirit of continually improving standards, we should try every available medium – including the unexpected. So, naturally, the art of cake decoration should be investigated and evaluated. Accordingly, Bart’s Pathology Museum invited some lovely people to put on an exhibition of fondant creations that, they hope, will be effective in gaining public engagement with the museum. You can see some of them here and here.
What you get is a selection of such yummy-looking repulsive treats as infected eyeball cupcakes, fungus toenail cookies, an STD cupcake gift set, urine cocktails, anal sphincter cupcakes, bloody ear cookies, suicide stomach contents cocktail, male and female reproductive system macarons. If your mouth’s watering, that may just be a prelude to throwing up.
What’s it all in aid of? Well, the statement from Bart’s Path Museum places a lot of emphasis on education and an aspiration “to engage with those who would never normally entertain learning about pathology or medical science” and the event does include short lectures on sexually transmitted diseases, careers in pathology/medicine and cancer awareness.
The cakes are, of course, essentially a publicity stunt. They attract attention to themselves, not only by being unusual, but also by the juxtaposition of conflicting impulses in the onlooker’s response. The extra attention they bring to issues of education, health, science or career opportunities is a collateral benefit.
You might think such fundamental concerns shouldn’t really need help in attracting attention, yet a predicate of this exhibition is that they do. Is it that the distraction of glitzy, alluring publicity for more trivial concerns leads us to neglect some of life’s fundamentals? Ironically, an exhibition like this ends up encouraging the notion that, in the cultural sphere, education, health and science will only get attention to the extent that they are promoted by louder and edgier publicity than other things – even as that publicity justifies itself by reference to the supposedly fundamental nature of these concerns. As the conclusion of the statement says:
“for those who don’t want to look at a photograph or a real potted specimen, an exact replica on top of a cupcake may save lives”.

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