Iron Oxide
Creators of Daring Physical Performance

Cargo, Iron Oxide


HeLa Letter to Editor

Response to the Scotsman article published Monday 12th August 2013

To the Editor,

Firstly I would like to thank Tiffany Jenkins for her article on HeLa, the 

production currently on at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival 

that deals with the true story of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line.

During our lengthy discussion about the production after the show, 

Jenkins at no point said that she would be writing an article or had any 

professional interest in it. However, I welcome the opportunity to respond publicly 

to some of the issues she has raised.

It has been of crucial importance to those of us making the show to strike 

a balance between describing the scientific discoveries made using the 

HeLa cell line and the attempt to tell a more personal story about Henrietta 

Lacks, and the society that she lived in at the time her cells were first 

taken. Despite what Jenkins suggests in her article, the show makes great 

efforts to tell the science side of the story. There is at least as much material

covering  the scientific discoveries, told in a factual way, as the more personal 

story of Henrietta's life. Indeed, this juxtaposition of the story of scientific 

achievement and progress with the story of Henrietta and her family is crucial to

the drama of the piece. It is a shame Jenkins was not able to recognize 

this and chose instead to misrepresent what set out to be, and most have 

found, a balanced production.

Science and race are not comfortable bedfellows and it is not surprising 

to me that Jenkins would attempt to keep them separate. But we have to 

be clear, this was the era of Jim Crow, when black people were treated 

as second class citizens in every aspect of societal life. Jenkins’ claim that 

institutional racism “was not reflected in this case”, when Henrietta Lacks 

was treated (and the early research carried out) in a racially segregated 

hospital is, frankly, bizarre. As much as Jenkins would like to believe 

that somehow the scientists working at the Johns Hopkins hospital were 

somehow separate from or unaffected by this institutional racism negates 

the complex history of race and science in America that the show partly 


Jenkins’ main argument that doctors/researchers can't be held responsible 

for unethical actions if they are working within a racist culture is an old 

apology for not holding people accountable for racism and discrimination 

of any kind. It doesn't hold water for me and I'm sure it has been countered 

many times more eloquently than I can here. How does she think racist 

societies and institutions manifest themselves if not through the actions of 

the individuals within them? Of course we need to examine these actions 

in context; and that is precisely what the show tries to do.

To conclude her article Jenkins states that the show "does Henrietta Lacks a

disservice by focusing on her tumour cells and not on the person: she was 

always more than tissue. She was a mother, a wife and a woman who loved to 

dance. That is how she should be remembered."

Ironically this last part is an almost direct quote from the show. One of our 

primary motivations in making HeLa was to bring to life the woman behind the 

scientific jargon which is why we repeatedly depict her as a mother and 

a wife and why the image of her dancing is a recurring motif throughout. 

To suggest otherwise, as if this is Jenkins’ view and not the show's, is 


We welcome the opportunity for a wider debate on all these issues.

Yours sincerely

Adura Onashile and Graham Eatough


By Adura Onashile

in association with Iron-Oxide

After a successful run at the EISF, HeLa will run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the Made in Scotland showcase.


Digi-Bhang Live

With Tigerstyle & Guests

in association with Iron-Oxide

As part of the first ever Made in Scotland Music award, Iron-Oxide are working with Glasgow based DJ/Music Production outfit Tigerstyle to produce Digi-Bhang Live. Featuring collaborating artists and musicians from both Asian and Scottish backgrounds, combining traditional influences of ‘Bhangra' with electronic elements, musicians of Asian and Scottish backgrounds bring you a performance of intergalactic future folk fusion! With a club night to follow; Digi-Bhang Live promises to be a welcome assault on the senses for fans of all genres.