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Discovering Henrietta Lacks

leamirella's picture

For this webpaper, I have made an artistic rendition of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", inspired by Kim Northrop's Neil Gaiman-inspired paintings. To accompany this, I have also played with my writing style. Once upon a time when I was in Year 10/11 (so the equivalent of high school freshman/sophomore), I did a GCSE course in fine art. We had to document our work, and I used this style to present the process that I used to create my piece. Within this style, however, I have used others, such as a letter format to communicate my ideas. With this documentation in the form of a "portfolio" of sorts, I hoped to parallel the method that Rebecca Skloot used to write her book. However, a lot of the things that I have written are ironic in the sense that I take the book as full "truth".  But, my final piece changes this a little bit as I use it to problematize Skloot's first line: "This is a work of non-fiction."

I've put images of the final piece and the pages from the "portfolio" here rather than embed them into Serendip as the image size was too big. Just click on the pictures and you'll see a bigger version of the piece!




leamirella's picture

Interesting Point!

I really like Dan Torday's description of the two different types of artists but I can't help but think that this is again a binary that I want to break down. My painting (and consequently, my analysis of Henrietta Lacks) involves a mixture of the two. On a more physical level, I added layers (with the newspaper and paint) but I also scrapped away. This mimicks my analysis: I first surveyed the text, absorbing it and reading it as it was meant to be read. (A shaky assertion, I'm willing to admit.) Then I added layers - thanks to GoodReader on the iPad, I recorded my thoughts in the margins, asking questions and making comments. Then I metaphorically scrapped away at my comments, examining them with a more critical eye.

But I guess that I still don't have the truth, if we consider the truth as a reflection (in the Barad sense of mirroring and sameness which takes its roots in representationalism). Perhaps through my mixture of both scraping and layering, I'm creating a diffraction of the truth?

Anne Dalke's picture

Getting "to" the truth?


I have for well over a year now been writing you letters celebrating your willingness to experiment w/ multiple media (not to mention vociforously supporting your proposed independent major in comparative media studies) -- and yet I still find myself surprised and delighted by each of your new experiments. This particular one is such an intensely layered visual exploration--layered not just in your use of multiple processes (etching, sponging, wet brush, dry brush, scrape painting...) in the final product, but layered also in the processes that underlie the art-making--the letter to "dearest" Henrietta, the letter to "dear" me, your mind map and composition, the cover letter on Serendip.

The visual layers of this project are of particular interest to me since you noticed, last time through, that I responded first to your images, then to the words, of your were asking then whether images always "trumped" words, always got and grabbed our attention first (maybe @ the expense of the words they carry?).

But (inevitably? and certainly not unrelatedly!) my big question this time 'round has to do with the relationship of truth and mediation. You write to Henrietta that you "hope to create a piece of art that tells your story. And you say in your cover letter on Serendip that 'a lot of the things that I have written are ironic...I take the book as full "truth".  But, my final piece changes this a little bit as I use it to problematize Skloot's first line: "This is a work of non-fiction."' If everything is mediated, then...where's the truth? Is it a word that still works?

And where are you now, re: these questions? In his reading last week, Dan Torday said that there are two types of artists, those who add layers, like a painter, and those who scrape away, like a sculptor. Both avenues--of adding and subtracting--he thought of as ways to represent truth (he himself was of the scraping kind). Are you engaged in one of them here? Or following another path altogether?