Artists create vaccine-inspired works — Vik Muniz tells the story behind 'Flowers', a work composed of microscopic patterns of cells infected with a smallpox vaccine virus.

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’ specialty is the double take. At first glance, his latest work ‘Flowers’ looks like a textile print. But draw closer and his pink floral designs quickly start to appear more alien. “The artwork is a microscopic pattern of liver cells infected with a smallpox vaccine virus. After infection, the virus turns the cells a reddish colour which allows scientists to visualise infection,” he writes of the piece, which has just been unveiled as part of The Art of Saving a Life, a series of works commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to raise money and awareness for vaccine research.

In this video, he explains what inspired the piece, which he made in collaboration with M.I.T. bioengineer and designer Tal Danino.

Muniz, who is perhaps best-known as one of the subjects of the Oscar-nominated documentary Waste Land, in which he uses garbage to reproduce classic paintings with catadores, or garbage pickers, at Rio de Janeiro’s largest landfill site. Muniz is one of more than 30 artists, including artist Olafur Eliason, photographer Mary Ellen Mark and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, participating in the project. Their works are being unveiled over the coming weeks.

The Art of Saving a Life is designed to support the work of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Select pieces from the project will go on display in Berlin on January 27 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts a world leaders conference seeking to help Gavi to help reach an additional 300 million children with life-saving vaccines by 2020.

For more information about The Art of Saving a Life, the participating artists, and to view the artwork as it is released, visit