Above All You Must Not Play At God
Mixed Media Woven Branches, Public Art Installation, 2016
Above All You Must Not Play At God, Woven Fabric on Branches Installation, Detail, 2016, Galerie Myrtis, Baltimore, MD
Above All You Must Not Play at God installation is created in memory of the life of Henrietta Lacks and to question the relationship and application of the Hippocratic Oath to the lives of people of African descent. Historically, the Hippocratic Oath, a Greek medical text, was used to indoctrinate newly minted physicians to their obligations, medical parameters and proper conduct as professionals. Written in Fifth Century BCE, the oath bids its readers to abide by numerous “healing gods” and above all, not play at God. To this day, modern versions of the oath are still used in medical schools. Yet, American societal practices—such as police brutality, cultural appropriation, institutional racism and marginalization—that siphon off Black essence and life from Black and Brown bodies are still prevalent today.
In January 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the cervix at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Subsequently, the medical care she and thousands other poor African American Baltimoreans received at John Hopkins was inadequate and ill-timed. Unbeknownst to Lacks during her treatment, samples of both her healthy and cancerous cells were taken. Once scientifically evaluated, the cancerous cells were intentionally misnamed to conceal their true source.
Within eight months the beloved wife of Day Lacks and mother of Lawrence, Elsie, David Jr., Deborah and Zakariyya died. The cancer had metastasized throughout her body. The HeLa immortal cell line, as Lacks's cancerous cell line was named, was then mass reproduced, monetized and utilized for the greater good of humankind. However, Henrietta Lacks or her descendants were never informed of the illegal harvesting, their permission never sought, nor were they rightfully compensated for their mother's contribution to the advancement of modern science.
The intent of this installation is to draw attention to the juxtaposition of living within a melinated-body, specifically a black female body, among a white-washed constructed society. Concurrently, this work is intended to celebrate the gift of melanin that allows for a deeper vibrational experience of light, sound, energy and hence life.
Hung from the ceiling by nooses, each branch is woven with various fabric materials and adorned with tiny items. The enshrined branches symbolically represent the female experience and “that which is precious and only belongs to self.”
Underneath the branches will be piles of the torn Hippocratic Oath. As with most artwork, the actual branches are not to be touched. I do however welcome attendees to pick up, read and question the varied slivers of the Hippocratic Oath and its relevance to the perception of this collective human experience, historical truths juxtaposed to societal norms, misconceptions and the continued abuse and disregard to the Black Body.
Click to view a video brief video documenting the installation of Above All You Must Not Play At God, Galerie Myrtis, Baltimore, MD, 2018.