Henrietta Lacks, “The Mother of Modern Science” will be honored by the Smithsonian Institute in its National Portrait Gallery. Artist Kadir Nelson painted a portrait of Lacks which will be installed at the Smithsonian on May 15, 2018. The portrait will remain on display through November 4, 2018.
At the age of 31, Lacks, a mother of five died from cervical cancer. While treated for the disease, doctors took cells from her body and discovered that they lived longer and reproduced in test tubes indefinitely. Over the years, the immortal “HeLa” cells have received medical patents and aided in the research and benefit of diseases including AIDS and polio. Since the use of Lack’s cells has become public, its use for commercial purposes and medical research continues to still raise concern about the privacy and rights of patients.
Nelson’s portrait symbolize different aspects of Lack’s life. The wallpaper features the “Flower of Life,” which symbolizes immortality; there are two missing buttons on the dress which represent the cells taken from her body without permission, the flowers on her dress are images of cell structures, and the pearls a symbol of cancer that took her life.