Artist Incorporates the DNA Found in Discarded Gum and Cigarettes to Create Eerily Lifelike Masks

Filmmakers Veena Rao and Emily Sheskin spoke with scientific artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg about “Stranger Visions“, her line of eerily realistic portrait masks that were crafted with materials that incorporated the DNA left behind on discarded gum, cigarettes and fingernails.

“It all started with wondering what I could learn about someone from a little piece … they left behind,” says artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Using discarded items like cigarette butts, chewing gum, and fingernails, she extracted traces of DNA to create masks based on the owner’s genetic profile. While difficult to determine how closely these portraits match the original holder, they do put a human face on larger questions surrounding genetic surveillance.

For this project Dewey-Hagborg used DNA phenotyping, a process similar to the one that was used in the Hong Kong Cleanup project to identify litterers.

Sample 3

Sample 4

Sample 7


images via Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.