The Color of Difference

A kaleidoscopic microbiome sculpture reflects the importance of variety to life

“Gut Flora” sculpture in the Allen Street station.

“Gut Flora” sculpture in the Allen Street station.

By Rebecca Rudell


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O'Leary Soudant dscusses “Gut Flora” and its biomedical "twist"

“If we don’t have diversity, we don’t survive,” says artist Shasti O’Leary Soudant (MFA ’11). Her sculpture “Gut Flora”—which wiggles its way from floor to ceiling at the metro station underneath UB’s new downtown medical school building—tackles the subject of diversity, both in relation to the bacterial populations in (and on) our bodies, as well as to the people within our communities.

The wildly colorful sculpture, named after the microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts, was commissioned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. It includes 260 pieces of rigidized, powder-coated stainless steel in 25 different hues, held together by 16,000 nuts and bolts. At more than 15 feet high and approximately 30 feet wide, the massive “marvelous microbes” (as O’Leary Soudant calls them) present a joyful yet thought-provoking introduction to the medical school.

O’Leary Soudant is fascinated by beneficial bacteria, especially because of the “scorched-earth approach” our society often takes: “We do it biologically; we do it chemically; we do it culturally. It’s this amazing, insane thing that humans do.” Which is what helped her choose her subject matter. She wanted the piece not just to represent diversity, but to signify how crucial it is to survival.

“The first job of ‘Gut Flora’ is to be pretty,” she says. “But as deep as you’re willing to look into it, it’s got something to say. It talks about something that’s really important to me—and I hope is important to a lot of people.”

Michael P. Smith


The pieces are vibrant and bring much needed color and feeling to our world......great job!