Every nook and cranny of our bodies and environment is covered in microbes. The surface of a lake hosts a different group of microbes than a flower garden or the palm of your hand. But every time we interact with a person or object, a microbial exchange occurs. We are constantly connected to our surroundings through a vast and wondrous community of microbes.

Bio-artist Joana Ricou is fascinated by the study of the microbiome, the community of non-human micro-organisms living in and on the human body. Her art explores the uniqueness of an individual’s microbiome as well as the influences of our environment.

Microprobe Portrait Overlay by Joana Ricou

Microbial Portrait of Raleigh, NC
Scroll over the image to see the people and places that contributed microbes to the portrait.

In October 2016, Ricou collected microbe samples from human bellybuttons and urban sites in Raleigh. Invisible samples blossom into visible, large cultures over the course of a few days to produce a microbial portrait of the city.

Microbe portraits from Darren's bellybutton microbe sample by Joana Ricou

Raleigh, 2014

Microbe portraits from DeAnna's bellybutton microbe sample by Joana Ricou

Raleigh, 2014

Microbe portraits from Clint's bellybutton microbe sample by Joana Ricou

Raleigh, 2007

Ricou has created over 400 individual microbe portraits from human bellybutton microbe samples. Visit the Museum to see a larger display of her work.

Hear from the artist about her work.

Visit the special exhibition The Secret World Inside You to learn more about your microbiome.