Murder to Excellence

10.27.2011

ART & DESIGN

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas tackles complex identity, historical, and social issues with an astute eye for message. Whether he is using the medium of photography or video, or engaged with collaborators — his work will make you stop dead in your tracks, and think.

In his solo exhibition “Strange Fruit” (on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.), he examines the impact of lynching on contemporary African-American communities in video and a series of evocative photographs. The exhibition is named for the song performed by Billie Holiday, with haunting lyrics—“Black body swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

“Basically it’s thinking about lynching as this horrific experience, but also the continued trauma on African-Americans,” says Thomas. “Lynchings were these public spectacles. I was really interested in this idea.”

In the piece “From Cain’t See In The Morning ‘Til Cain’t See At Night,” a Black person depicted as a slave picking cotton in the field faces off with a Black football player on the line of scrimmage. “I’m very interested in how black bodies were traded on the market and traded now,” Thomas says. “Of course some of the few that make it and become professional athletes are incredibly wealthy, but there are still great limitations placed on their liberty, so to speak. It’s not crazy to think that an ancestor or a relative of someone who was lynched is probably playing in the NFL or NBA today.”

In “Football and Chain,” a player is chained to the field as he leaps through the air in reference to an earlier piece “Basketball and Chain.” “It’s looking at the spectacle of lynching primarily and slavery in commodity culture,” says Thomas. “I say with my work I’m also trying to bring history forward, looking at contemporary trends as they relate to historical trends, trying to make people engage and be interested in things as they often are overlooked.”

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AJ6SBBAQVZSGLX6SCDMJGQOJ44 Jared

    Powerful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/78diamond Tammie Soto

    I AM ORIGINALLY FROM WASHINGTON DC MY CHILDREN ARE FROM DIFFERENT RACES AND WHEN I SAW THIS IT HURT MY HEART THAT OTHERS IN THE COUNTRY DO NOT RECOGNIZE THE EFFECT AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN AND WOMAN HAVE ON AMERICA. I AM PROUD AS AN ITALIAN CAUCASIAN WOMAN WITH MIXED CHILDREN TO ALLOW THEM THIS EXPERIENCE AT THIS TIME BECAUSE THEY WILL NEVER SEE IT AGAIN BECAUSE OTHER AMERICANS WANT TO STOP IT . YES I AGREE THIS WAS VERY POWERFUL AND I THINK THAT THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY IS VERY POWERFUL AND CAN BE PULLED OUT OF PRISONS AND UNEMPLOYMENT AND WELFARE IF AMERICA WILL JUST LET IT HAPPEN AND LET GO OF THIS WHOLE RACE WAR THAT IS STILL GOING ON THAT SO MANY ARE BLIND TO OR ARE TOO AFRAID TO ADMIT

  • http://spiritsentient.com JasonFonceca

    Wow. Epic art, powerful statements. I’d love to discuss it with Hank Willis Thomas personally, because his parallels between how people were treated and the past, and how they’re treated now are pretty provocative.

    How does personal choice, personal freedom, and law of attraction fit in?

  • http://twitter.com/normysgranchild Habitual Retweeter

    Wow!!! This is amazing. It’s such a powerful representation of the NFL, NBA and especially college football. Even though the professional athletes get paid well, I agree with Hank Willis Thomas that that comes at a cost – of their freedom of speech, to speak their minds as men. Case in point, when the Troy Davis execution was looming…not ONE of the professional athletes I follow on Twitter (and I follow a lot of the big ones) said a word about it!!!

    NBA players can be traded at the drop of a hat, with no regard for the roots and bonds that they’ve created in a particular community. They and their family are expected to move across country the very next day after a trade…modern day slave TRADE”? Yes they’re rewarded handsomely, but they better know their place! Remember the huge stink that was created when Lebron decided to CHOOSE where he wanted to go???

    NFL players are kept on a leash by good ole Goodell… don’t dare say anything out of pocket and disagree with him, because he is quick to pull that fine out! I am in no way making excuses for bad behaviour by some of our professional athletes, but the first thing some people say when black athletes mess up, is “take away their money”, as if these men aren’t working hard on the field and putting their bodies at risk for our entertainment.

    Let’s not even talk about college ball…these schools make BILLIONS of dollars off of these kids, and refuse to pay them a stipend to make ends meet… or help their families, or even provide for their kids!! It’s a huge form of control!

    So thank you for posting this! Will be sharing it. Hank Willis Thomas has illustrated beautifully what we think about, but many of us…especially those of us with influential voices, don’t say anything about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gigi-Greene/100001257169801 Gigi Greene

    I LIKE THAT JAYZ IM LAUGHING MY ASS OFF……………………………..THATS RIGHT TELL THEM SHAWM BE A MANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN………………….

  • http://twitter.com/lanarosandic Lana Rosandic

    Any jobs for me?

  • http://twitter.com/lanarosandic Lana Rosandic

    would like to join…

  • http://twitter.com/iYashMusic Steven Odige

    makes u think

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