National Academy of Sciences Presents Jeffrey Kent Surface from Under the Microscope: The Henrietta Lacks Series

By Editorial Team on January 21, 2020
Photo of Jeffrey Kent by David Rehor.
Reception and Talk: Thursday, January 23 from 6pm to 8pm

Meet artist Jeffrey Kent at this private gallery talk and reception celebrating his exhibition Surface from Under the Microscope: The Henrietta Lacks Series.

This painting series is inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American tobacco farmer who died in 1951 of cervical cancer at the age of 31. Her cancer cells—taken months before she died without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, AIDS and Parkinson’s disease research, and more. Lacks’ cells, known as HeLa cells, have been bought and sold by the billions, yet for decades she remained virtually unknown and her family uncompensated.

Characterized by a bold and thoughtful use of layered material and color, Kent’s abstract paintings reference the contrast-phase microscopic imagery of HeLa cells to pay homage to the woman from whom they were derived. Inspired by the undulating shapes and forms of cellular structures, Kent playfully suggests that “they appear as celestial bodies floating in an atmospheric universe.” Yet, considering Lacks’ story and the history of medical testing on African Americans without their consent, the artist also intends to raise questions about medical ethics, patients’ rights, and race.

The artist will give a gallery talk during the reception. Remarks begin at 6:30 p.m.

National Academy of Sciences is located at 2101 Constitution Avenue NW.