NIMBY (texts by Marina Mojana, Maria Anna Potocka, Agnieszha Kilian)

From the "Not In My Back Yard" concept, NIMBY is a project that focuses on the life, work and research of twelve women who lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and who fought for the defense of the noblest human rights, some of them currently in historical oblivion.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler, warrior of the great Babylon, Frances Power Cobbe, the cry of wife assault, Lizzy Lind af Hageby, animal rights activist ante litteram, Rachel Carson, uncomfortable environmentalist, Mary Harris Jones, children's rights, Rose Schneiderman, workers with roses, Irène Némirovsky, a person of Jewish origin, Bertha von Suttner, weapons down, Susan B. Anthony, the roots for the nineteenth amendment, Hellen Keller, blind and deaf in the trench, Elizabeth Fry, the prisons' angel, and Henrietta Lacks, immortal cell. 

They all witnessed tragedies that, after a century, still concern us, and their commitment affirms non-negotiable values against pedophilia, domestic violence, vivisection and animal violence, devastation of the environment, child labor, exploitation of female labor, religious persecution, political warfare, infibulation, marginalization of the disabled, the hell of prisons and human guinea pigs. 

NIMBY project so far is composed by a video, twelve portraits and HeLa installation. It starts with a video produced by a web research of International channels, from BBC to Al Jazeera, from Russian Television to CNN, but also from documentaries d’auteur to small networks. This video is presented next to twelve portraits of activists, instigating emotion, reflection, and possibly a call to action in the viewer, making of NIMBY a work in progress, because as Charles Péguy said, the work of art is always made by two. 

(text by Marina Mojana)

HeLa at MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow. Medicine in Art exhibition, 2016  

HeLa installation is about Henrietta Lacks, an icon related to the exploitation of human beings by the pharmaceutical and medical industry. In 1951, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, created the first immortal human cell line with a tissue sample taken without consent from a young and poor African American woman with cervical cancer named Henrietta Lacks. Those cells, called HeLa cells, quickly became invaluable to medical research and over the years were used worldwide by a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry that never recognized or even informed her family about the immortal cells. 

Up until then, cells were difficult to be kept alive during an experiment, that’s why Henrietta’s cells have been essential for numerous scientific findings like the development of the polio vaccine, cancer treatments, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and stem cells, to mention just a few.  One group of scientists tracked down Henrietta’s relatives to study their DNA. Only then the family found out about the utilization of Henrietta's cells. A major process was then initiated by the family, with the result being that researchers must mention Henrietta Lacks in their scientific papers every time they use HeLa cells for any experiment.

The artists, with the support of physicians from the Istituto dei Tumori di Milano, made a research and selected hundreds of important papers that used HeLa cells after this process. They found out that less than one percent of the papers mentioned Henrietta Lacks after the sentence. Hirsch and Filiberti displayed hundreds of these documents on the walls of a museum, side by side like a ‘wallpaper’. The papers that did not mention Henrietta Lacks were stamped and signed as REJECTED by the artists, and those that mention Henrietta Lacks (only four of them), as ACCEPTED. A photograph of Henrietta Lacks without her head is exhibited in the same room together with a text extracted from her gravestone epitaph, to remark that she did not have the right to an identity even after her death.

HeLa at nGbK, Berlin. Dreams & drama. Law as Literature exhibition, 2017

HeLa invoked the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman and descendant of slaves in rural Virginia who was diagnosed with cancer in the 1950’s. During her treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital—the sole hospital within a 20-mile radius of Henrietta that treated African-Americans at the time—Henrietta’s cells were sampled without her consent. Because her cells could be divided multiple times without dying they were declared “immortal” by the hospital. Later her cells served to culture a line of cells named “Hela” now being used for research into cancer, AIDS, gene mapping, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, and a myriad of other crucial scientific pursuits. HeLa cells were the first human cells successfully cloned in 1955 and since the 1950’s, scientists have grown 20 tons of her cells; there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells. Henrietta’s family later clamored for, but never received, any compensation for the hospital’s unauthorized extraction of Henrietta’s cells. Hirsch/Filberti’s installation consists of a two-meter-high glass wall with various drawer-like boxes attached to its sides, containing reams of papers of black and white legal documents addressing the question of who has a right to profit from Henrietta’s cells.


Josephine Elizabeth Butler (Northumberland, England, 1828 – England, 1906)

“…she said she was never allowed out of that room.”

Butler campaigned against the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children. She was concerned with the welfare of prostitutes and led the long campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts both in Britain and internationally. In 1885, she was drawn into a campaign for exposing the extent of child prostitution in London. As a result of this campaign, the age of consent in the United Kingdom and Ireland was raised from 13 to 16.

Mary Harris Jones (Ireland, 1837 – Ireland, 1930)

“Today the white child is sold for two dollars a week to the manufacturers.”

In her 60s Mother Jones became an organizer for the United Mine Workers Union. Since judges were reluctant to jail such an elderly woman, her age was an asset to the union movement. As she grew older, her attention focused on securing laws that prohibited child labor. She made speeches and engaged newspaper writers to accompany her to places where children were working in slave-like conditions.

Rose Schneiderman (Saven, Poland, 1882 – New York City, New York, US, 1972) 

“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”

After working in a cap factory, she was instrumental in getting women admitted to the United Makers Union and participated in a successful strikes. She was elected (1907) vice president of the NY branch of the Women's Trade Union League and was its sole organizer (1917–19) in the Eastern states. She was subsequently elected president (1918) of the NY branch and became (1928) national president of the National Women's Trade Union League. 

Frances Power Cobbe (Dublin, Ireland, 1822 – 1904) 

“Wife-beating advances to wife-torture, and usually ends in wife-maiming, wife blinding or wife-murder.” 

Cobbe was an Irish writer, social reformer, anti-vivisection activist, and leading suffragette. Cobbe published several articles on the legal rights of women in marriage. A pamphlet, Wife Torture, which proposed that wife assault should be made grounds for a legal separation, and this influenced the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1878 which gave a wife the right to a separation with maintenance, and with custody of any child under ten years of age.

Elizabeth Fry (Norwich, England, 1780 - Ramsgate, England, 1845) 

“Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal.”

Referred to as ‘Angel of prisons’, English prison reformer, Elisabeth Fry’s visit to Newgate prison prompted her to work for changing the horrible conditions of women, new-borns and children in the cells, including founding a school for imprisoned children. She created an association for the improvement of prisons, that attracted Queen Victoria’s interest. The success of her methods in Newgate was applied in many other prisons throughout Europe.

Lizzy Lind af Hageby (Sweden, 1878 – London, England, 1963)

“How long shall these things be?.” 

Animal rights advocate, in 1903, she infiltrated the vivisection in University College London of a brown terrier dog she said was dissected while conscious before an audience of medical students. The researcher insisted the dog had been anaesthetized. The ensuing controversy, known as the Brown Dog affair, lasted seven years and famously led to riots in London when 1,000 medical students clashed with suffragettes.

Rachel Carson (Springdale, Pennsylvania, US, 1907 - Silver Spring, Maryland, US, 1964) 

“What if I had never seen this before? what if I knew I would never see it again?”

Environmentalist, writer, Carson stood behind her warnings of the consequences of indiscriminate pesticide use, despite the threat of lawsuits from the chemical industry. Carson died before she could see any substantive results from her work on this issue, but she left behind some of the most influential environmental writing ever published.

Bertha von Suttner (Prague, Austrian Empire, 1843 – Vienna, Austria-Hungary, 1914)

“Ground arms!” 

Austrian writer and activist Bertha von Suttner became a leading figure in peace activism at the turn of the twentieth century with the publication of her anti-war novel, Ground arms! She continued her efforts as a public speaker and played a key role in the formation of the first Hague Peace Conference and the Nobel Peace Prize. For her efforts in the peace movement, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. 

Irène Némirovsky (Kiev, Russian Empire, 1903 - Auschwitz Poland, 1942)

“What is this country doing to me?”

Arrested as a "stateless person of Jewish descent" by French police under the regulations of the German occupation, she was brought to Pithiviers camp and on July 1942 to Auschwitz camp where she died a month later of typhus. Némirovsky's older daughter, Denise, kept the notebook containing the manuscript for Suite Française for fifty years without reading it, thinking it was a diary which would be too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, she decided to examine the notebook and discovered Suite Française text.

Henrietta Lacks (Roanoke, US, 1920 – Baltimora, US, 1951)

“People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don't get a dime.” (Deborah Lacks, daughter)

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor snipped cells from her cervix without telling her and discovered that Lacks' cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely. For the past 60 years Lacks' cells have been commercialized and generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue. Lacks' family, however, didn't know the cell cultures existed until more than 20 years after her death.

Hellen Keller (Tuscumbia, Alabama, US, 1880 - Westport, Connecticut, US, 1968) 

“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

Though both blind and deaf, American lecturer and author Helen Keller travelled the world over, fighting for improvement in the education and life of the physically handicapped. Blind and deaf from an undiagnosed illness at the age of two, she was put under the charge of Anne Sullivan, who was her teacher and companion until Sullivan's death in 1936. 

Susan B. Anthony (Adams, Massachusetts, 1906 - Rochester, New York, 1906) 

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I noticed it always coincides with their own desires.”

Susan B. Anthony was an early leader of the American women's suffrage movement and a pioneer in the struggle to gain equality for women. As an active abolitionist, or opponent of slavery, she campaigned for the freedom of slaves. Anthony remained active in the struggle for women's suffrage until the end of her life. Only four states had granted women the right to vote when she died. Fourteen years later the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was added to the U.S. Constitution.