The incredible story of Henrietta Lacks at Tate Exchange

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A special week long public exhibition that tells the incredible story of Henrietta Lacks through art, science, storytelling and documentation launches today (Monday, 30 September) at Tate Liverpool as part of the Tate Exchange programme.

Henrietta was an African American woman who died of an aggressive form of cancer on 4 October 1951. While she underwent treatment, a sample of her cancer cells was taken without her consent. Following Henrietta’s death, discoveries made using her cells changed medical research forever. Known as HeLa, the cells have allowed scientists to make significant breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer, polio, HIV and many other diseases.

The question of how and whether her race affected her treatment, the lack of obtaining consent, and her relative obscurity, continues to be controversial. Henrietta’s story has been the subject of news articles, documentaries, a book and also a film starring Oprah Winfrey.

The exhibition is the latest Tate Exchange residency at Tate Liverpool and has been organised by staff from the North West Cancer Research Centre at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with theatre company Eclipse and Liverpool-based artist Faith Bebbington.

Visitors can enjoy art by both artists and scientists inspired by her story, meet scientists from the University of Liverpool and have the unique opportunity to view HeLa cells under the microscope.

Tate Exchange is an open experiment; a space for an ongoing programme of events developed by artists, practitioners, and associates. It is a place where everyone is invited to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art.

The custom built space within the gallery provides a comfortable and flexible place for you to get involved. Members of the public are free to drop in for a talk, enjoy a chance encounter with a pop-up work of art, watch a live performance, join in a workshop, and experience art in new and unexpected ways.

The week-long ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ residency will run between 30 September to 6 October from 10am–5.50pm every day at Tate Liverpool. The dates of the exhibition were chosen to mark both the beginning of Black History Month and the anniversary of Henrietta’s death.

Staff and student looking for more information about Tate Exchange and how to take part in future programmes can find visit the University's Tate Exchange pages here.