"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, June 29, 2018

Henrietta Lacks

 This 2017 portrait of Henrietta Lacks entitled Henrietta Lacks (HeLa): The Mother of Modern Medicine by  Kadir Nelson hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
“Henrietta Lacks, whose great-great-grandmother was enslaved, died of cervical cancer at age thirty-one. Upon her death, doctors discovered that cells from her body lived long lives and reproduced indefinitely in petri dishes. These ‘immortal’ HeLa cells have since contributed to over 10,000 medical patents relating to polio, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and other conditions.

Considering the history of medical testing on African Americans without their consent, the fate of Lacks’s cells raises questions about ethics, privacy, and race. By addressing these issues forthrightly in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010), author Rebecca Skloot prompted Oprah Winfrey and HBO to make a film on the subject.

Kadir Nelson's portrait of Lacks uses visual elements to convey her legacy. The wallpaper features the ‘Flower of Life,’ a symbol of immortality. The pattern of her dress recalls cellular structures, and the garment's missing buttons signal the absence of those cells that were taken from her body, without permission.” – National Portrait Gallery
Missing Buttons

“In life, Virginia-born Henrietta Lacks did not aspire to international renown—she didn’t have the luxury. The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Lacks was left motherless at a young age and deposited at her grandpa’s log cabin by a father who felt unfit to raise her. Never a woman of great means, Lacks wound up marrying a cousin she had grown up with and tending to their children—one of whom was developmentally impaired—while he served the 1940s war effort as a Bethlehem steelworker.” -- Ryan P. Smith, Smithsonian Magazine, May 15, 2018 
Bible and Wedding Ring

HeLa Cells


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