The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Note: This portrait by Kadir Nelson, carries great symbolism that is worth the read.
Currently, I am working on a personal drawing inspired by Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). I was introduced to this phenomenal women behind HeLa, the immortal cells of a black women who revolutionize medicine and pave the way for the development of the polio vaccine via an invitation to the reception and opening exhibit in March. I learned that HeLa cells have been used for the research of cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and other scientific pursuits.
When I received the invitation in March for the reception and exhibition opening at Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, MD, I immediately accepted. Soon after I was on the internet gathering information about Henrietta Lacks and learning about her story. The reception and the exhibition was inspiring.
Since then, I have been given the audio-book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by author Rebecca Skloot. While driving to work, I have been listening to Lacks story and I cannot seem to get this story off my mind. I am proud that a black women has once again contributed to the greater good of all humanity, but more importantly she is getting recognition. Her story is well told by Rebecca Skloot and has been an eye opener. Skloot informs readers/listeners about medical studies that not all people are aware of that include the Tuskegee and the Human Radiation experiments.
When an inspirational piece entered my mind early this week, I have been finding myself lost in the image. The conversational piece grew from a pencil drawing, to a full color image in my mind where every detail was covered down to the shadow effects on the breasts of the women.
Much like the talk surrounding HeLa cells multiplying and growing at a rate unknown to the medicine world in the 50’s, so has my ambition to create this very personal conversation piece and share the story of Henrietta Lacks with family and friends. It seems that the spirit of Henrietta Lacks has somehow catapulted me into a space of focus intent and clarity, which makes it easy to bring this inspirational piece to reality.
Although, I have no intent of sharing my inspirational piece online, I want to share what I feel is the reason for this piece. As a woman and mother of daughters, I believe it is important to highly regard the body of the female as a powerful force. This body we women have is a life-giving source. We are conduits of life, we are the bearers of life–what is, what was, and what it will be. We must own how powerful we are in light of what some believe is their property and right to control. We must not allow our daughters, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, aunts, etc., to give in to laws and conversations that attempt to convince them that they do not have a right to decide what’s best for their bodies. The womb and breast being of the most high importance is the armor of which God/the universe has given women charge over. We must guard it and accept that as the precious gem it is and forever will be.
As I work through this image in my mind, extracting and perfecting it, I think of another powerful women that adds her power to this piece, Georgia O’Keefe. Her paintings of flowers reminding me of the vagina and its delicacy she so eloquently captured. To be reminded these days when I look at a hibiscus, rose, pansy, iris, daffodil, etc. that if any shame lingered in my mind about the power of my female body to let it go.
Be powerful. Be unapologetic. BE.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Saturday, April, 22, 2017 on HBO.