Pearls: HeLa cells

My Fascination with Henrietta Lacks & Lovie Olivia: I had no idea who she was in modern medicine.  My godmother emailed me and told me that I should purchase a book about her life written, by Journalist’ Rebecca Skloot. Unbeknownst to me she was another human experiment. I still have not purchased the book. However, she came back into my psyche, by way of an artist.

“In 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, created the first human cell line with a tissue sample taken from a young black woman with cervical cancer (Zielinski, 2010).”

The doctor did not inform her that he cut a piece of her tumor and sent it down the hall to be tested.

Her cells have never died: IMMORTAL PEARLS.

Henrietta Lacks was named by her mother and father. The body that was given to her, by GOD, was violated—Black Women since landing in the United States of America have been the exception to the rule. We have been conditioned for castration, mutilation, humiliation, suffocation, and preservation—sexual beasts ready at the drop of a dime.

Artwork by Lovie Olivia, 2012

Artwork by Lovie Olivia, 2012

Give me that shyt. Give me that shyt. Give me some of that good funky stuff: BLACKNESS!

I had no idea who she was; he introduced me to her work in 2005.

I became obsessed with her artwork…immediately called my godmother and stated that she needed to meet her.

Since that time, I have come to understand and identify with Lovie Olivia’s work.

Reading about Henrietta Lacks, and viewing art work, by Lovie Olivia, in honor of this brave woman took me aback. As I viewed the antique white stand, with an open compartment on top, I had to step closer to reveal-in the beauty of Henrietta’s existence and the printmaking technique that was used to portray the message.

The tobacco farmer from Southern Virginia looked at peace—her photo sat at the bottom of the white stand that faced upward. My eyes moved quickly to see what was above the image. I was attracted to it’s bold color and unique presentation. As I moved closer, I observed a gold eggshell crate with pearls in each circular space.

Equally important is what I took away from the art piece after viewing it. I had  many feelings as it pertains to Black women’s identity in the United States once I had a chance to see the entire show featuring Lovie Olivia’s work. Henrietta Lacks and her family were kept in the dark for a long time as it pertained to what the doctor did to her body. Through history, we (Black Folk) learn the truth about our ancestors and the gifts that they have bestowed upon our lives—late in life. Henrietta Lack’s cells were tested and retested and they eventually became the precursor for research in science.

In like manner, Lovie Olivia’s work has allowed me to embrace messages that depict feminism, love, existence, and struggle as it pertains to the African American female experience in the United States. I believe that if I had the opportunity to transcribe the many conversations that we’ve both had about African American women and the issues that surround our lives, it would probably take a couple of days to produce on paper.

Lovie Olivia’s initiative to expose the human condition through art is fascinating. And, her current exhibition is: Fire!

During this exhibition individuals will get a chance to participate, step back, and experience a glimpse of Henrietta Lacks life and contributions to society/science.

I had no idea who she was…

I had no idea who she was…


I read her story


I stepped back and viewed her art.

Give me that shyt. Give me that shyt. Give me some of that good funky stuff: BLACKNESS!

By kYmberly Keeton

Pearls: HeLa cells, Published in STIR ART Journal, 2012

ART Bibliography: Zielinski, S. (2010, January 22). Henrietta Lacks’ ‘Immortal’ Cells. Retrieved fromhttp://www.smithsonianmag.com

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