The Chatter

Henrietta Lacks Mural Takes Shape

Lacks’ granddaughter and Philadelphia-based art studio to work together on the project.

By Gabriella Souza | April 19, 2017, 12:31 pm

-Courtesy of the Lacks Family
The Chatter

Henrietta Lacks Mural Takes Shape

Lacks’ granddaughter and Philadelphia-based art studio to work together on the project.

By Gabriella Souza | April 19, 2017, 12:31 pm

-Courtesy of the Lacks Family

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

The story of Henrietta Lacks has resonated with people around the world—through an award-winning book by author Rebecca Skloot and most recently, through a movie produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey that premieres this Sunday on HBO.

Now, that story will be immortalized further through a mural that Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks Whye, and a Philadelphia-based art studio are working together to bring to life. They’ve also enlisted The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and see the process of creating the mural as a way to start conversations about the tensions between the storied medical institution and the surrounding community.   

“Jeri always says, ‘I just want people to know my grandma,’” says Lizzie Kripke, co-principal artist at Meg Saligman Studio. “Her grandmother is someone who’s a part of all of us now, in a literal way if we’ve had a polio vaccine.”

On January 29, 1951, Hopkins doctors took a biopsy from Henrietta Lacks—wife of a Bethlehem Steel worker—who had an aggressive form of cervical cancer. Though she passed away eight months later, the tissue, used by researchers without her consent, went on to establish the cell line HeLa—the first immortal human cells ever grown in a culture, which have been invaluable to medicine ever since. 

“There’s a lot of beauty in the science and in her life and family, along with the darker side,” Kripke says. “If we can cast things in a positive light, and acknowledge what’s gone wrong but also celebrate what’s gone right, I think that’s a different way to present this.”

She and the Lacks family are still deciding the site for the mural, and Kripke expects that the bulk of the work will take place next year.

“We’ll feature Henrietta Lacks, but it’s not going to be just a picture that memorializes her,” she says. “It’s going to pull lots of elements from the area as well as her life and story.”

The process of designing the mural will include getting Henrietta Lacks’ family, community members, and Hopkins doctors and officials in the same room for discussion.

“We can’t overstate what the art will do, as this story touches on so many interconnected issues,” Kripke says. “But I do think art is effective in getting the ball rolling and shifting culture in one way or another.”




Meet The Author
Gabriella Souza is the arts and culture editor for Baltimore magazine, where she covers arts, entertainment, music, and culture.

You May Also Like


MaxSpace

Review: Ingrid Goes West

Instagram gets the skewering it deserves.

Arts & Culture

Rock Steady

As the city evolves, the Ottobar plays on in Remington.

MaxSpace

Review: Good Time

In-your-face film is impressive, if exhausting.


Arts & Culture

Watch This Tape

A Remington shop brings video back from the dead.

MaxSpace

Review: It

Nostalgia piece has heart and plenty of chills.

Arts & Culture

Bold Palette

We gathered artworks from local Baltimore artists and paired them with fall looks.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Pillow Talk
Add a pop of color, texture, and personality to any room.

Club Charles Comes Back to Life
The Station North staple gets resurrected.

Small World
Small batch products are bigger than ever.

Sex and the City
Rec Pier Chop House adds glam factor to Fells Point.

Washington D.C. Arts Guide
From concerts and art exhibits to comedy and theater, we round up the best events to check out in the District.