An Evening with Hank Willis Thomas

Museum

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAR 23, 2018

As a photographer and international award-winning conceptual artist, Hank Willis Thomas brings an unflinching eye to the world of advertising, its history or representation and the effects this representation has on individual and group identity, particularly with relation to the African-American experience. His work has been displayed across the globe, including at the Museum of Modern Art New York, The Guggenheim Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and selections from three of his series can be seen in Hank Willis Thomas: Branded/Unbranded, hanging in the Monda Gallery through June 10. Joining the Sarasota audience last night in the Historic Asolo Theater, Thomas talked inspiration and purpose, touching on everything from James Baldwin to the spooky ubiquity of brand logos. Here are a few highlights and insights.

On social commentary through art: “If you call something art, people care more about it.”

On the pressure of social expectations: “All of us can relate to being boxed into an identity.”

On images in advertising: “They’re not often seen as the important things, but you can learn as much from one of these as reading a whole book.”

On borders and nation-states: “They’re all imaginary lines and people have been crossing them for centuries… Certain things don’t care about these borders.”

On American freedom: “It’s amazing that in the land of the free, we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world.”

On the existence of race: “I don’t believe in race. It’s a divide and conquer strategy.”

On the importance of empathy: “Our connection to other people’s struggles will increase opportunity and freedom for us all.”

On a history of struggle: “That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for… That’s what life is.”

On progress: “It’s not government that makes change; it’s people.”

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