Hank Willis Thomas: A Conversation About Awareness

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I recently had a chance to ask Hank Willis Thomas about his B(r)anded series. In the artist’s own words, the series is a “result of an exploration, and subsequent appropriation of the language of advertising.” It is the artist’s goal to “provoke conversations about issues and histories that are often forgotten or avoided in our commerce-infused daily lives.” Though the B(r)anded series focuses on the use of the African American body in advertisement, I wanted to learn about the implications of the work. What is Hank Willis Thomas implying in this narrative? Furthermore, I really wanted to know how the election of our first black president affected the implications by the artist in the B(r)anded series.

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I am really interested in knowing about “Branded.” Works such as “Basketball and Chain,” “Hang Time (Circa 1923), and “Branded Head” evoke a sense of indoctrination of black men into not necessarily basketball culture, but into the trap in thinking that the great hope of young African-American men is in sports. Am I completely off base with this assessment? However, if I am correct, (knowing the works were created in a pre-Obama world) how does the election of Barack Obama change the critique evoked by “Branded”?

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“I think that that will be a question for time to come. But I think that I would be the last person to be able to talk authoritatively about how the critique of my past work has changed in this political context. In anticipation of future critiques I see that my work has many layers of complexity and challenges. The singular greatest challenge of trying to create new work for my upcoming solo show at Jack Shainman gallery is the awareness that it will be first viewed 3 weeks after the inauguration of the first black president.”

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I encourage you to learn more about Hank Willis Thomas.
Please also visit Jack Shainman Gallery.

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