Over the last decade, the American artist Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) has become known for powerful works that explore issues of identity, media, race, and popular culture. Often appropriating and re-contextualizing common symbols and objects, Thomas's work points to the assumptions and biases that frame our experience of the world.
Black Righteous Space is Hank Willis Thomas's first solo exhibition at the California African American Museum. In this audio-activated multimedia presentation, Thomas explores the black experience in the United States. Politically charged and manipulated symbols are projected onto the gallery walls, changing, vibrating, and moving when activated by sound. One of these symbols, the confederate flag, is recast using colors associated with the Black Nationalist party (red, black, and green), intentionally confusing and challenging its fraught meaning.
Thomas overlays this evocative imagery with the voices of more than fifty speakers, singers, and spoken-word artists who share their observations on racism, equality, injustice, and life in America. Comments from such luminaries as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, and Gil-Scott Heron range from comic to uncompromising, from profound to profane, and they present a raw, unapologetic black history that incorporates both protest and celebration. During periodic moments of silence on the audio track, the single microphone standing in the middle of the installation invites you to speak up and add your own dialogue to the work. Black Righteous Space effectively puts viewers' own experiences in conversation with decades of prominent African American celebrities and political figures.
Hank Willis Thomas: Black Righteous Space is organized by Naima J. Keith, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs.
Hank Willis Thomas was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, and raised in New York. He earned a BFA in photography and Africana studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts (1998) and an MFA in photography, along with an MA in visual criticism, from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco (2004). He has exhibited throughout the US and abroad and is in numerous public collections including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Brooklyn Museum; as well as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His collaborative projects have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival and installed permanently at the Oakland International Airport, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the Oakland Museum of California, and the University of California, San Francisco. Thomas is also a recipient of the New Media grant from Tribeca Film Institute and the New Media Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography Question Bridge: Black Males, a collaborative transmedia art project.