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‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum Ocula Report ‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum 19 Jul 2019 : Penny Liu for Ocula

An Opera for Animals was first staged at Para Site in Hong Kong between 23 March and 2 June 2019, with works by over 48 artists and collectives that use opera as a metaphor for modes of contemporary, cross-disciplinary art-making. The exhibition's second iteration takes up a large portion of the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in Shanghai (22 June–25...

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Zoe Butt on the Challenges and Rewards of Curating Ocula Conversation Zoe Butt on the Challenges and Rewards of Curating

Zoe Butt is the artistic director of The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, the first purpose-built space for contemporary art in Vietnam. Founded in March 2016, the Centre was designed by HTAP Architects in an old steel warehouse, with cargo shipping containers added to its structure. Initiated as a social enterprise...

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Ocula 报告|Condo Shanghai 2019 展览看点 Ocula Report Ocula 报告|Condo Shanghai 2019 展览看点 11 Jul 2019 : Penny Liu for Ocula

即将于2019年7月13开幕的第二届 Condo Shanghai,联合上海7座画廊/艺术机构与14 家来自全球11个不同的城市,如东京、首尔、雅加达、巴尔的摩、洛杉矶、伦敦、纽约、危地马拉城、利马和墨西哥城,为实验性展览营造了一个更切实可行的国际环境。以下是Ocula的展览看点。周奥,《景观/对象WA》(2016)。橡木上固化油墨打印,左: 55.88 × 147.32 cm,中: 121.92 × 152.4 cm,右: 55.88 × 147.32 cm,图片提供:马凌画廊,上海。马凌画廊 × 80m2 Livia Benavides × LABOR × Proyectos Ultravioleta马凌画廊 |...

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Hank Willis Thomas

( - 1976), USA

Hank Willis Thomas's practice is deeply concerned with American media systems and their relationship to identity and race relations. Drawing heavily from popular culture, Thomas dissects the commodification of the Black body, particularly its exploitation in sports, film, television and advertising.

The intersection of sports, race and warfare is embedded within Thomas' artwork. Critiquing the media's treatment of the athletic Black body as spectacle, fibreglass sculptures such as Promise and Equilibrium (2016) depict singular limbs coated in metallic car paint and holding, hitting or spinning sports balls. The shiny limbs are fragmented (or severed) from the owner's bodies, emphasising the gap between the media's hero-worship of athletes and the athletes' private subjectivities. Turning to sports uniforms, in 2017 Thomas made a series of quilts from soccer jerseys, the design based on warrior flags made by the Fante people in Ghana as a response to European contact. Similarly, and resembling the repetitive stripes of Frank Stella's paintings, Thomas' 2016 quilt What you see is what you see (Stella) was stitched together with decommissioned prison uniforms.

Thomas also has worked with sports within the framework of branding and corporate competition. For his 2006 photographic series 'B(r)anded', Thomas depicted Nike's iconic swoosh embedded into the skin of Black men, recalling the branding of slaves by their owners. As a follow-up to this project, for the series 'Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America' (2005–08), Thomas removed all logos and text from found magazine ads of African Americans dating from between 1968—the year Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated—and 2008—the year Barack Obama was elected as United States president. Pointing to the historic commodification of Black bodies, the photograph The Johnson Family (1981/2007), for example, shows a smiling couple holding a toddler, all overt markers of capitalistic exploitation lifted from their figures.

Similarly riffing on the language of advertisement, Thomas's photograph Priceless (2004) borrows the tropes of a long-running Mastercard advertising campaign. In the work, an image of Black funeral mourners is overlaid with text relaying the costs of various objects including garments ('three-piece suit: $250', 'new socks: $2') and weaponry ('9mm Pistol: $80'). At the bottom of the image is the sobering phrase, 'Picking the perfect casket for your son: priceless.'

Reflecting on racialised violence with a similar urgency is Thomas' 'Strange Fruit' series. One eponymous photograph from 2011 shows a Black man suspended in mid-air with a basketball held in a hand pulled up by a looped rope. Similarly, Football and Chain (2012) shows a Black football player diving for a touchdown, but his ankle is chained to a post—his mobility, power and potential restrained. Through such works, Thomas points to the stark contrast between America's worship of Black athletes and the resentment that boils over off the field.

Thomas is also known for his special-effect photographs that require flashes (such as from a camera or phone) in order to see their full contents. Viewed in ordinary light, for example, the photograph What happened on that day really set me on a path (red and blue) (2018) appears to contain semi-abstracted and oddly hued shapes. When illuminated with flash, however, the work reveals the forms of an African American woman and white protesters, pointing to the invisibility of certain racial histories. Similarly, in natural lighting I Tried to see a friendly face (2018) shows a lone African American woman walking; when lit with a flash, the faces of taunting white people behind her are revealed.

Community engagement is also central to Thomas' practice. In collaboration with Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, Thomas initiated the trans-media art project Question Bridge, which aimed to redefine Black male identity in the 21st century. Travelling across America, the artists asked 160 Black men questions about love, family and community, seeking to build a self-determined representation outside of otherness. The project resulted in a book and three-hour documentary (Question Bridge: Black Males [2012]).

For his 2015 'Philly Block Project', Thomas spent 15 months photographing a city block in North Philadelphia in order to create a 1:1 photographic replica of the neighbourhood and its residents. In 2016, alongside artist Eric Gottesman, Thomas founded an artist-run, non-partisan political engagement organisation called For Freedoms, with the goal of involving creative people in civic activities. As one of their first projects, the organisation invited the public in cities across the country to customise the type of yard signs ubiquitous during elections; under the headers 'Freedom of' and 'Freedom from', participants wrote words and phrases such as 'the mind' and 'violence'.

Another For Freedoms project, and a reaction to the 2016 United States presidential election, the 50 State Initiative sees artist-designed billboards erected in every state. With the same goal, ahead of the 2018 United States mid-term elections, For Freedoms established an auxiliary space in New York City in which to hold talks and special exhibitions.

Born in 1976 in Plainfield, New Jersey, and raised in New York, Thomas earned a BFA in photography and Africana studies at New York University in 1998. He later obtained an MFA in photography, along with an MA in visual criticism, from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, in 2004.

Thomas lives and works in New York.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

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Will not Go Dull and Lifeless, 1953/2015 by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasWill not Go Dull and Lifeless, 1953/2015, 2015 Digital chromogenic print
132.1 x 99.4 cm
Ben Brown Fine Arts
Save Your Skin, 1993/2015 by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasSave Your Skin, 1993/2015, 2015 Digital chromogenic print
89.2 x 127 cm
Ben Brown Fine Arts
He was Trippin', 1996/2015 by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasHe was Trippin', 1996/2015, 2015 Digital chromogenic print
133.3 x 101.6 cm
Ben Brown Fine Arts
Life (red) by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasLife (red), 2019 High gloss paint and stainless steel with mirrored finish
120.7 x 215.9 cm
Kayne Griffin Corcoran
All Power to the People by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasAll Power to the People, 2015 Fibreglass and aluminium
3 x 3 x 14 inches
Goodman Gallery
Black Power by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasBlack Power, 2005 Inkjet print
64.7 x 102.6 cm
Goodman Gallery
Bifocal by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasBifocal, 2019 Glass Mirror
121.9 x 243.8 cm
Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Women hold up half the sky (gold on gold with blue) by Hank Willis Thomas contemporary artwork
Hank Willis ThomasWomen hold up half the sky (gold on gold with blue), 2018 Screenprint on retroreflective vinyl mounted on dibond
76 x 76 cm
Para Site

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Hank Willis Thomas, My Life is Ours at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong
Closed
20 September–27 October 2018 Hank Willis Thomas My Life is Ours Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House Ocula Report Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House 5 Jul 2019 : Jareh Das for Ocula

Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House in London (12 June–15 September 2019) surveys more than half a century of black creativity in Britain and beyond across the fields of art, film, photography, music, design, fashion, and literature.Curated by Zak Ové, works by approximately 100 intergenerational black...

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In Related Press

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‘We Are Family’: Aperture Fetes Agnes and Catherine Gund, Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas, Catherine Opie at Fall Gala Related Press ‘We Are Family’: Aperture Fetes Agnes and Catherine Gund, Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas, Catherine Opie at Fall Gala ARTnews : 5 November 2018

Last week, during the Aperture Foundation's fall gala at a cavernous space in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, Marilyn Minter turned to Catherine Opie while the two artists stood onstage together, and said, "I wish you would adopt me." Opie, not missing a beat, deadpanned back, "Can I swaddle you, then?"

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U.S. artist accused of stealing iconic images from South African photographers Related Press U.S. artist accused of stealing iconic images from South African photographers CBS News : 17 October 2018

An American artist is being accused of stealing works by South African photographers, who captured the atrocities of apartheid.CBS News foreign correspondent Debora Patta reports one of South Africa's most revered photographers is Peter Magubane, who documented life in South Africa for six decades.

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The Striking Election-Season Billboards That Are Also Art Related Press The Striking Election-Season Billboards That Are Also Art Vanity Fair : 8 October 2018

The billboards going up around the country this week will have a familiar message for this midterm election: Vote. But featuring images of protests and reminders of the 2016 election, produced by some of the country's best-known artists, the billboards—one for each of the 50 states—will look nothing like your average political...

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On photographs and the art of ‘remixing’ images Related Press On photographs and the art of ‘remixing’ images Mail&Guardian : 5 October 2018

Recently, American artist Hank Willis Thomas's work, Gravitas, in which he made use of a photograph taken by Graeme Williams, was shown by Thomas's gallery, the Goodman, at the 2018 Joburg Art Fair. The price set by the gallery for this work was $36000.Thomas similarly used photographs taken by Peter Magubane, Alf Khumalo and British photographer...

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