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HeLa

HeLa

Creating another way to experience a story.

Telling the story of Henrietta Lacks.


HeLa is an exploration in intensifying a reader's experience through non-linear storytelling. As opposed to books, where content is delivered uniformly on a page, HeLa requires the reader to physically navigate a hanging structure, moving around it and under it in search of text to reveal the story of Henrietta Lacks. The chronology of the story became of secondary importance as the reader was encouraged to make correlations between the selected excerpts in order to understand the narrative and gain awareness to the ethical implications raised by the novel.

TYPE Installation 

SCOPE 3 Weeks

PROCESS Concept design, graphic design, fabrication

SOLO PROJECT Azucena Romá

INSPIRATION

Who is Henrietta Lacks? 

My interest in creating this project was sparked by an article I came across online that led me to read the non-fiction novel "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by science author Rebecca Skloot. 

Henrietta Lacks, known to scientists as HeLa, is a woman who is the source of one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Her immortal cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, were shipped to research labs worldwide. HeLa cells have served as a catalyst for medical breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine and have been commodified into an ongoing multi-billion dollar industry. I felt compelled to share her story since we have all collectively benefited from her cell line.

CONCEPT

Build a tangible structure to convey Henrietta Lack's story through visual narrative.

My objective was to share Henrietta's story through an alternative format, presenting in a 3D space and presenting it to new audiences that may not be interested in reading the regular format of the novel. The excerpts selected told the story with a larger emphasis on raising questions about institutional racism in medical history, concerns of consent, and privacy rights to the audience.

I assembled the structure by hand using origami techniques to create a polyhedron meant to resemble a cell. The type was designed to resonate and reflect the content, then printed on translucent vellum paper and alternated with folded blue and red paper. The blue paper is representative of bloodlines within Henrietta's body and the red paper is used to resemble oxygenated blood, representative of lives that have been able to be sustained using her immortal cell line.