The Immortal Body

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a 30-year-old African-American woman died of an aggressive type of cervical cancer. A tissue sample taken by her doctor at Baltimore’s John Hopkins Hospital without her knowledge or consent proved to be ‘immortal’ and survive outside her body as well as multiply. Her cells came to be known as HeLa cells. They were subsequently used in scientific research around the world enabling numerous breakthroughs in medicine including various cancer therapies and the polio vaccine.

HeLa cells have since proliferated into a multimillion dollar industry, but many African Americans like Henrietta Lacks and her descendants have regularly been denied and deprived of medical treatment and used in scientific experiments because of their race and social status.

The story of Lacks and HeLa cells raises questions about the complex history of biomedical science and the social, economic and political roles of science and technology in contemporary society.

Moreover, these stories force us to confront the often euro-centric, racialized, gendered, and classist biases embedded in scientific practices and conceptions of the human body and life itself.

The Immortal Body symposium explores these issues through a range of productive conversations between scientists and artists who explore and debate these issues through their lives, work and practices.

The Immortal Body Programme is curated by Zulfikar Hirji (Associate Professor, York University) and  is supported thanks to a Community Partnership Grant from the U.S. Mission in Canada.

Register for this day’s events, or for the whole Festival, here.

time title speakers
11:00am – 12:00pm Film: BioArt—Art from the Laboratory Robert Styblo
12:00pm – 1:15pm BIOART: A conversation with Robert Styblo, Jack Butler, Marguerite Humeau, and Dolores Steinman Jack Butler, Marguerite Humeau, Dolores Steinman, Robert Styblo
1:15pm – 2:00pm Lunch (provided)
2:00pm – 3:00pm Henrietta Lacks in Text and Context Alondra Nelson
3:00pm – 4:00pm A conversation with Alondra Nelson, Heidi McKenzie and Jeff Thomas Alondra Nelson, Heidi McKenzie, Jeff Thomas