Hank Willis Thomas makes artworks that visually decode the “what goes without saying” generalizations of race, class and history as seen in advertising. Appropriating the language of mass media, his photographs are reinserted back into the world of images, but with the added dissonance of the artist’s critique. For CONTACT, Thomas commandeers billboards and street level posters at the corner of Front and Spadina to present images from three related series. The 16 works take a critical look at a range of issues relating to the representation of black identity in photography. In Fair Warning (2010), Thomas repurposes imagery from cigarette campaigns featuring African American models from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s. The Rebranded series (2010) looks at the ways “blackness” has been sold over generations. Remember Me (2010), presents a series of altered postcards, circa 1919, which honours the struggle of the anonymous millions who stood strong, during a period when society at large was designed to keep them down. Reviving images from the past for consumption in the present, Thomas’ CONTACT project challenges the voice of mainstream media by putting advertising’s influence to new use.
Hank Willis Thomas (born in Plainfield, NJ, 1976) is the winner of the first ever Aperture West Book Prize for his monograph Pitch Blackness (2008). His work was featured in the 30 Americans exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming Photographers. He has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and abroad and is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.
Presented in partnership with Pattison Sign Group.