Hank Willis Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas
|Alma mater||MFA/MA California College of the Arts, |
BFA Tisch School of the Arts
Hank Willis Thomas (born March 17, 1976 in Plainfield, New Jersey) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands. Thomas’ work is included in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms, which was awarded the 2017 ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. In 2012, Question Bridge: Black Males debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and was selected for the New Media Grant from the Tribeca Film Institute. Thomas is also the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a member of the New York City Public Design Commission. Thomas is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Ben Brown Fine Arts, London and Hong Kong; Goodman Gallery, South Africa; and Marauni Mercier, Belgium. Thomas lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
- 1 Education
- 2 Career
- 3 Collaborative Projects
- 4 Family
- 5 Awards
- 6 Permanent installation
- 7 Selected exhibitions
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 References
- 10 External links
- 11 Controversy
Thomas holds a B.F.A. in Photography and Africana studies from New York University (1998) and an M.A./M.F.A. in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of the Arts (2004). In 2017, he received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.
Hank Willis Thomas' collaborative projects have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival and installed publicly at the Oakland International Airport, The Oakland Museum of California and the University of California, San Francisco.
Thomas' first comprehensive survey Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… will open at the Portland Museum of Art in fall 2019 and then travel to additional U.S. museums in 2020. The exhibition will highlight Thomas' devotion to reframing perspectives on difficult issues central to American history and the representation of race and the politics of visual culture.
Thomas explores the representation of the African-American male body in visual culture in his B(r)anded Series. Writing in The Guardian, critic Arwa Mahdawi observed: "Thomas’s work 'unbrands' advertising: stripping away the commercial context, and leaving the exposed image to speak for itself." His two screenprints of 2013, And I Can't Run and Blow the Man Down, express the erasure of past injustices to the black male body by printing photographs of humiliations or executions of black men on retro-reflective vinyl (commonly used for street signs), rendering them invisible except under flash photography.
Thomas has a permanent installation at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The piece, titled Rise Up, depicts a cement wall with statues of black heads and bodies emerging from the top of the wall whose arms are raised in surrender. The piece comments on the incidents of police violence and police brutality that are prevalent in current American society.
In 2017, Thomas also unveiled his permanent public artwork Love Over Rules in San Francisco and All Power to All People in Opa Locka, Florida.
Thomas has acted as a visiting professor at CCA and in the MFA programs at Maryland Institute College of Art and ICP/Bard and has lectured at Yale University, Princeton University, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.
Thomas is the winner of the first ever Aperture West Book Prize for his monograph Pitch Blackness (November, 2008). His work has been featured in other publications including Reflections in Black (Norton, 2000), and the exhibitions along with accompanying publications 25 under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers (CDS, 2003), and 30 Americans (RFC, 2008). Other major publications include Aperture's Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal... (2018), and Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC)'s The Philly Block Project (2017).
Founded in 2016 along with artist Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms is an anti-partisan platform for creative civic engagement, discourse, and direct action. The name was inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)— freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Through exhibitions, installations, and public programs, the organization is established to deepen public discussions on civic issues and core values, and to advocate for equality, dialogue, and civic participation.
In 2018, For Freedoms launched the 50 State Initiative, the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history. In the fall of 2018, For Freedoms launched a major billboard campaign in every state, including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The campaign included over 150 contemporary artists, including Marilyn Minter, Rashid Johnson, Guerrilla Girls, and Theaster Gates, among others.
In October 2018, For Freedoms also launched a photo campaign entitled Four Freedoms. In collaboration with photographers Emily Shur and Wyatt Gallery, Thomas and For Freedoms transformed Norman Rockwell’s depictions of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress, which articulated FDR’s vision of the four basic human freedoms. Through dozens of iterations of Rockwell’s original four paintings, the 82 images in the campaign attempted to reflect the immeasurable diversity of American identities today. Celebrities such as Rosario Dawson, Dolores Huerta, Gina Belafonte, Van Jones, Jesse Williams, Robert A. Nakamura and Karen L. Ishizuka, Kiran Gandhi, Michael Ealy, Saul Williams, Rodney Barnette, and others were included in the reinterpretations. The new version of the images were widely shared on social media and Instagram, including by celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
The Cause Collective is a team of artists, designers and ethnographers creating innovative art in the public realm. Their projects explore and enliven public spaces by creating a dynamic conversation between issues, sites and the public audience. By exploring ideas that affect and shape society, the collective seeks to add the "public" back into public space and art.
The Long March
The Long March is a 27 monitor installation commissioned by the recently renovated Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport. The installation incorporates depictions of movement, migration and marching from different eras in Alabama history, for instance, the Civil War, the Children’s March, the Selma Marches, football marching bands, the railroad, and migrations to the “Magic City.” The long row of monitors (the long march) track to the center of the wall and meld into a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope is tiled in the shape of a Camellia – the Alabama state flower. The Camellia, in this instance, is a repository of past and present motion that represents the flowering that grows out of movement. The kaleidoscopic mixes and melds the long march footage creating new emergent patterns, forms and colors. The travelers who will encounter the piece will be able to envision themselves as part of this mosaic that is symbolized through Alabama’s relationship to ‘the march’ as a form of historical progression.
In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth)
Thomas is working on the long-term and global public art project In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth). Also known as "The Truth Booth" it is in collaboration with Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester, all members of Cause Collective. The New York Times writes: "The “Truth Booth,” [is] a roving, inflatable creation by a group of artists calling itself the Cause Collective. The booth, in the shape of a cartoon word bubble with “TRUTH” in bold letters on its side, serves as a video confessional. Visitors are asked to sit inside and finish the politically and metaphysically loaded sentence that begins, “The truth is …”". To date, the project has travelled Ireland, Afghanistan, South Africa, Australia, and the United States. It embarked on a world tour at the Galway Arts Festival, Ireland in 2011.
Throughout this long-term project the video footage is compiled and edited into a video artwork. To expand and engage with audiences, the movements of "The Truth Booth" and sample responses are tracked, edited, and categorized on a website. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to try to capture as many definitions, confessions and thoughts on The Truth as possible, creating a diverse ‘portrait’ of people across the globe.
Question Bridge: Black Males
In collaboration with artists Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, Question Bridge: Black Males is a platform for black men of all ages and backgrounds to ask and candidly respond to questions that are rarely discussed in public. Through video mediated question and answer exchange, diverse members of this “demographic” bridge economic, political, geographic, and generational divisions. The Question Bridge campaign seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America. Additional collaborators include Jesse Williams, Delroy Lindo, and Dr. Deborah Willis.
Thomas's mother, Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is an art photographer and an NYU professor. His father, also Hank Thomas, is a jazz musician, film producer, real estate developer and stock broker. Thomas is married to Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
- Guggenheim Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation
- Soros Equality Fellowship, Open Society Foundations
- AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize
- Infinity Award: New Media and Online Platform, International Center of Photography
- Infinity Award: New Media, International Center of Photography
- Unveiled April 26, 2018, Raise Up, Permanent Installation, Equal Justice Initiative's National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, AL
- Unveiled November 9, 2017, Love Over Rules, Permanent Installation, Sites Unseen, San Francisco, CA
- Unveiled October 17, 2017, All Power to All People, Permanent Installation, Opa-locka Art, Opa-locka, FL
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Solo / two-person
- Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
- Black Righteous Space, University at Albany University Art Museum, Albany, NY
- Branded/Unbranded, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
- What We Ask Is Simple, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- Unbranded, The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL
- Ads Imitate Life, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town
- Flying Geese, Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS
- The Beautiful Game, Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, UK
- Freedom Isn't Always Beautiful and Blind Memory, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Geogia
- Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915 - 2015, York College Galleries, York, Pennsylvania
- Hank Willis Thomas: Black Righteous Space, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA
- To Whom It May Concern, Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery, Brussels, Belgium
- Evidence of Things Not Seen, Kadist, San Francisco, California
- Hank Willis Thomas: I Am A Man, New City Arts Initiative, Charlottesville, VA
- Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915 - 2015, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina
- Primary Sources, David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
- The Truth is I See You, PublicArtFund, Metrotech, Brooklyn, New York
- In The Box: Hank Willis Thomas, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
- Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915-2015', Jack Shainmain Gallery, New York NY
- ...and only the people, Galerie Henrik Springmann, Berlin, Germany
- History Doesn't Laugh, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- Question Bridge: Black Males, DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, Illinois
- Hank Willis Thomas, The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Transformer Station, Cleveland, Ohio
- Wayfarer, Picture Windows Series, International Center of Photography, New York, New York
- What Goes Without Saying, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
- Hank Willis Thomas: Believe It, SCAD Galleries, La Galerie Pfriem, Lacoste
- Strange Fruit, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- Scouring the Earth for My Affinity, Samson Projects, Boston, Massachusetts
- Hank Willis Thomas, Galerie Anne De Villepoix, Paris, France
- All Things Being Equal..., Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
- Hank Willis Thomas, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
- Light Text, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, KS
- Hank Willis Thomas, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
- Digging Deeper, in collaboration with Willie Cole, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
- About Time, Galway – 126, Galway, Ireland
- Black is Beautiful, Roberts and Tilton Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
- Visionary Delusions, Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto, Canada
- Pitch Blackness, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- Hank Willis Thomas, The Fabric Workshop and Museum Storefront, Philadelphia, PA
- Winter In America, de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara, CA
- B®ANDED, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- Unbranded, Lisa Dent Gallery, San Francisco, CA
- Bearing Witness, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
- The Trade Dress: Value Judgments, Diaspora Vibe Gallery, Miami, FL
- Michael Jackson: On The Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
- Histórias Afro-Atlânticas, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo, Brazil
- RESIST! The 1960s Protest Movements, Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR), Brussels
- ReSignifications: The Black Mediterranean, Zisa Zona Arti Contemporanee, Palermo, Italy
- Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, China
- HYPER-REAL, The Arts Club, London UK
- Seeing Now, 21C Museum Nashville, KY
- Reclamation! Pan-African Works from the Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection, Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA
- The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art, Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL
- Posing Beauty in African American Culture, Snap! Gallery, Orlando, FL
- For Freedoms, Aperture Foundation, New York, NY
- The Past is Present, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- Double Take, SKARSTEDT, London, United Kingdom
- Third Space / Shifting Conversations About Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama
- AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
- All Things Being Equal..., Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Cape Town, South Africa
- Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Southern Accent, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
- The Truth is I Hear You (A Project by The Cause Collective), Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
- The Color Line: African American Artist and Segregation, Musee du quai Branly-Jacques Chiac, Paris, France
- Preface, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA
- I See Myself In You, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
- All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California
- Question Bridge: Black Males, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington D.C. and Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida
- From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA
- Making Africa, A Continent of Contemporary Design, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
- Winter in America, The School – Jack Shainman Gallery, Kinderhook, NY
- Black Like Who?, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
- Aperture Photographs, Aperture Foundation, New York, NY
- Salon Style, Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, NY
- Image-Objects, Public Art Fund, City Hall Park, New York, New York
- Remember Me, Michel Rein Gallery, Brussels, Belgium
- Repetition and Difference, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY
- Africa Now: Political Patterns, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea
- The Photographer’s Playspace, Aperture Foundation, New York, NY
- Americans in New York 3, Galerie Michel Rein, Paris, France
- The People’s Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, IL
- Conjuring Capital, San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Secondhand, Pier 24, San Francisco, CA
- NYC Makers, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY
- Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York
- Historias Mezticas, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, Brasil
- About Face: Contemporary Portraiture, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
- Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, Studio Museum in Harlem
- Contemporary Memories, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
- Making History, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt Germany
- Hard Targets, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis, Indiana
- Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), Istanbul, Turkey
- The Bearden Project, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
- More American Photographs, Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CA
- Commercial Break, Venice Biennial, Italy
- West End, Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, Israel
- Becoming, Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC
- In Context, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
- Huckleberry Finn, Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CA
- Africa: See You See Me, Museu da Cidade Pavilhão Preto, Portugal
- Greater New York 2010, PS1, Queens, New York
- 3rd World Festival of Black Arts ad Culture, Dakar, Senegal
- CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, Toronto, Canada
- In Context, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- Houston FotoFest Biennial, Houston, TX
- 1969, PS1, New York, New York
- ICP Triennial: Dress Codes, ICP, New York, New York
- 30 Americans: Rubell Family Collection, Rubell Family Collection, various venues
- After 1968, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
- Black Is, Black Ain't, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Illinois
- Willis, Deborah, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kalia Brooks. Progeny: Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas. New York: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009. ISBN 978-1-884919-23-7
- Thomas, Hank Willis, René De Guzman, and Robin D G Kelley. Pitch Blackness. New York: Aperture, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59711-072-3
- Harney, Elizabeth, editor. Flava: Wedge Curatorial Projects 1997-2007. Toronto: Wedge Curatorial Projects, 2008. Page 131. ISBN 978-0-9783370-0-1
- Rhoden, William C. Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006. Page 182. ISBN 0-609-60120-2
- Thomas, Hank Willis, Kambui Olujimi, and Carla Williams. Winter in America. San Francisco: 81 Press, 2006. ISBN 0-9777336-0-2
- Armstrong, Elizabeth, Rita Gonzalez, and Karen Moss. California Biennial 2006. Newport Beach, California: Orange County Museum of Art, 2006. Pages 152-5. ISBN 0-917493-42-7
- Murray, D. C. "Hank Willis Thomas at Lisa Dent." Art in America. December 2006: p. 165.
- Dawsey, Jill. "Hank Willis Thomas." Artforum.com, March 2006.
- Golden, Thelma, and Christine Y. Kim. Frequency. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 2005. Pages 7, 88-89. ISBN 0-942949-30-7
- Bing, Alison. "Image Consciousness." SFGate.com, 28 October 2004: p. 78.
- Willis, Deborah. Black: a Celebration of a Culture. Irvington, New York: Hylas Publishing, 2004. Pages 221, 230, 290. ISBN 1-59258-051-3
- Addo, Ping-Ann. Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa from Tonga & the Pacific Islands. Oakland, California: Center for Art and Public Life, California College of the Arts, 2004.
- Hill, Iris Tillman. 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers. Brooklyn, New York: powerHouse Books in association with the Center for Documentary Studies, 2003. ISBN 1-57687-192-4
- Gore, Al, and Tipper Gore. The Spirit of Family. New York: Henry Holt, 2002. Pages 14–5. ISBN 0-8050-6894-5
- M.I.L.K. Project. Friendship: a Celebration of Humanity. New York, New York: Morrow, 2001. ISBN 0-06-620970-6
- Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: a History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Pages 257-8, 277. ISBN 0-393-04880-2
- Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1997. Cover. ISBN 0-517-88497-6
- Cottman, Michael H, Deborah Willis, and Linda Tarrant-Reid. The Family of Black America. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1996. Pages 122-6. ISBN 0-517-88822-X
- Cottman, Michael H, and Deborah Willis. Million Man March. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1995. Pages 13, 39, 81. ISBN 0-517-88763-0
- "Hank Willis Thomas". Beth Schiffer Creative Darkroom. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
- Dutra, Robyn. "The New Regime: Hank Willis Thomas." Black Book, December 4, 2008. Accessed August 4, 2009.
- Davis, Beandrea. "The Elusive Concept of Blackness." Colorlines, November/December 2007. Accessed August 4, 2009.
- Mahdawi, Arwa. "The truth about adverts: selling the White Woman™", The Guardian, April 29, 2015
- Erdos, Elleree. "Hank Willis Thomas: Now You See It, Now You Don't," Art in Print Vol. 4 No. 2 (July–August 2014). For this work in the broader context of UV-reflective media and black radicalism, see Ensminger, David. "Black Light Panthers: The Politics of Fluorescence," Art in Print Vol. 5 No. 2 (July–August 2015).
- "A New National Memorial To Victims Of Lynching - 1A". 1A. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- Randy Kennedy. Political Art in a Fractious Election Year "The New York Times", July 17, 2016
- Rosario Dawson, Van Jones, and Others Star in a 21st-Century Remake of Norman Rockwell’s Famous ‘Four Freedoms’ Series—See Them Here
- Hank Willis Thomas video interview on Unbranded series
- Hank Willis Thomas in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art
- Official Website of Hank Willis Thomas
- Pitch Blackness, Thomas' first book
- Cause Collective, a group of artists of which Thomas is a member
- Flypmedia: Visual Slang
- An Evening with Hank Willis-Thomas, with quotes related to his themes, SRQdaily, 2018.03.23
- Photo Eye: Interview
- Wynwood: 30 Americans
- Video of Hank Thomas at a joint lecture with his mother, Deborah Willis
- Bishop, Philip E. "Exhibit Explores History, Hipness." Orlando Sentinel, April 19, 2007.
- Cook, Greg. "Bought and Sold." The Boston Phoenix, January 22, 2008.
- Cotter, Holland. "On the Piers, Testing the Waters in a Down Art Market." New York Times, March 5, 2009.
- Dawson, Jessica. "'Black Panther Rank and File' Rallying Its Own Art Movement." Washington Post, November 23, 2007.
- Rice, Robin. "Life in Turnabout." Philadelphia City Paper, January 23, 2008.
- Of Time, Space and Revolution, 2010, Baltimore Museum of Art.
In 2018, Thomas was accused of plagiarism by South African photographer Graeme Williams. A photograph that Williams took in 1990 of black children in the foreground and white policemen in the background was modified by Thomas, removing colour from the background. The photograph was exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Fair, with an asking price of USD36000, without attribution or mention of Williams. Willis defended himself saying that what he had done was "akin to sampling, remixing".
In a separate case, award winning South African photographer, Peter Magubane, who has photo-documented life in South Africa for six decades, discovered that Thomas had also altered one of his photos, similarly putting "a white fade over the background", without seeking permission from Magubane. Thomas defended his actions, saying that asking permission to use the photograph was a form of censorship. Magubane responded that Thomas' actions was arrogant, shameful and disrespectful.