Hank Willis Thomas
Works (Tap to zoom)
Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976 Plainfield, NJ; lives and works in New York, NY) is a conceptual artist focusing on themes relating to perspective, identity, commodity, media and popular culture. His work often incorporates widely-recognizable icons—many from well-known advertising or branding campaigns—to explore their ability to reinforce generalizations developed around race, gender and ethnicity. Thomas created one of his most iconic photography series in 2006, B®anded, where he superimposed bodies of Black men with the Nike swoosh logo recalling the history of branding slaves in America as well as the literal and figural objectification of Black male bodies in contemporary culture.
A trained photographer, over the past several years, Thomas’ practice has evolved to incorporate a variety of media including mirrors and retroreflective vinyl —an industrial material rarely used in the arts—to challenge perspectives in his work, exploring 20th century protest images and often overlooked historical narratives. Many of these protest images are activated by flash photography playing with role reversal by having the viewer step into the position of image maker. By adding multiple, hidden layers, Thomas also asks the view to consider who is included in history and who is erased, revealing the complicated nature of storytelling and the bias of history. Influenced by social history and the hard-fought, perennial battle for equality in all areas of his work, Thomas co-founded For Freedoms with artist Eric Gottesman in 2016 as a platform for creative civic engagement in America. 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—For Freedoms uses art to encourage and deepen public explorations of freedom in the 21st century.