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Voices of thalidomide

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Mix media artwork made up of archive photographs and painted elements. The image shows a sepia toned photograph of a woman from the waist up standing with one arm resting on the handrail of a seaside walkway. In the distance is the horizon line of the sea meeting the sky and small distant figures on the sunlit sandy beach. The woman is smiling to the camera in a relaxed manner, her hair and skirt being blown by the wind. She is wearing a white sleeveless blouse. Behind her to the right the background of the photograph has been painted over with bright yellow textured paint above the handrail and light orange below. To the left of the image the beach scene is cut into strips and physically latticed into another archive photograph of an advert for a drug. The words 'Distaval' can be made out at the top and at the bottom the words, 'safe sedation' and 'sounder sleep'.  Resting on top of the advert are 3 white tablets in a transparent packet.
Maureen W on Eastbourne Pier c.1959. © Hollie Chastain for Wellcome Collection.

Nearly sixty years have passed since the last baby affected by thalidomide was born in the UK. The thalidomide scandal has had far-reaching effects on public trust in medicine, pharmaceuticals, the government and the law. But we rarely hear from the devastated families or the survivors, now adults, who continue to live with the consequences. In this series Ruth Blue uses a collection of audio interviews made by the UK Thalidomide Society to explore thalidomide’s history, from the shocking paucity of clinical trials that led to the drug’s prescription to pregnant women, to the stories of survivors, and the families affected.

About the contributors

Black and white, head shot of a woman with long dark hair, wearing spectacles and trailing leads from earbuds, against the background of a park.

Ruth Blue


Dr Ruth Blue is a freelance writer, researcher and oral historian with a PhD in fine art from the Slade School of Fine Art. She worked for Wellcome for 17 years, where she began working with thalidomide survivors in 2013, collecting their stories, photographs and artefacts. She has continued this work for the Thalidomide Society.

Black and white, head and shoulders portrait of Hollie Chastain.

Hollie Chastain


Hollie Chastain is a mixed-media artist and award-winning illustrator living and working in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Coming from both a graphic-design and studio-art background, her work has a storytelling quality, mixing found material, strong graphic elements and modern palettes. Along with gallery work, she has illustrated work for Smithsonian Magazine, Warner Music and the Oxford American, among others, and authored and illustrated a book published in 2017. She currently works from a home studio with her husband Eric, two children, two cats and two dogs.