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Issues of National Identity, Migration, and Social Justice Tackled by Hank Willis Thomas at Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery

  • Hank Willis Thomas exhibition
  • Hank Willis Thomas exhibition
April 7, 2016
Gordana Sretenović. Teaching English and writing for a living. Obsessed with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Desires to travel the world and not have a permanent address. Occasionally writes poetry.

The Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery is pleased to present the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition for the first time in Belgium. An extensive selection of the artist’s oeuvre will be presented for the viewers to enjoy. The New York-based conceptual artist focuses his work on the themes of commodity, media, popular culture, and identity, and often includes recognizable images in his work, many of which are familiar icons from advertising and branding campaigns. This exhibition will address the same problems Europeans are facing in the light of the immigration crisis and their integration into the society. Hank Willis Thomas’ exhibition will surely invite the viewers to engage in a lively dialogue and inspire them to make positive changes in their communities.

Hank Willis Thomas exhibition
Left: Hank Willis Thomas – A Place to Call Home, 2009 / Right: Hank Willis Thomas -Die Dompas Moet Brand (The Passport Must Burn!), 2013

Hank Willis Thomas – To Whom It May Concern

Hank Willis Thomas’ work tackles the building and the use of race in America, and at the same time, withstands this categorization. He has stated that he could be a black artist, but simultaneously, so much more than that. His opinion is that all people are a home to multiple identities at once. For Thomas, the most absurd thing is that the blackness was not invented by black people, but by Europeans with a mercantile interest in dehumanizing the black community. He added that some five hundred years ago, there were no black people in Africa, they were just regular people. A big part of the advertising industry, he says, is the success built on its capacity to fortify the generalizations grown around race, ethnicity, and gender. Even though these generalizations are mostly false, they can nevertheless be entertaining at times, sometimes true, and most of the times – horrifying.

Hank Willis Thomas exhibition
Hank Willis Thomas – A Luta Continua, 2014

Art and Racial Identity

As we know, the information provided in school curriculums and art textbooks does not portray the African-American culture in its entirety. However, artists have been trying to change this general opinion on racial issues we face today, especially in the world of graffiti. Graffiti artists have the power to translate their feelings on racism, gender, and ethnicity into their art and create beautiful works with a strong message behind them. With the leading graffiti artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Harring, the interest in this medium has grown since their emergence on the art scene. Since Basquiat is a black painter, who was first a street artist, the story revolving around him was also sprinkled with the information about his heritage and race. Since Basquiat, many artists have found the courage to express their own racial backgrounds in their works, driven by his success despite the color of his skin. Perhaps this is why it is so important to address one’s cultural and racial heritage and help people realize that it is not the color or ethnicity that divides us but makes our society stronger and more versatile and multicultural.

Hank Willis Thomas Exhibition at Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery

The opening reception for Hank Willis Thomas’ exhibition To Whom It May Concern at Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery on April 14th, from 4 PM to 7:30 PM, where the artist will be present. It will be on display from April 14th through May 22nd, 2016. The gallery is located at Rue de la Régence, 17 – 1000 in Brussels. Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery is a contemporary art gallery founded in 1995, and has, since then, focused on well-known American artists from the 1980s. It also works towards promoting the artists it represents by publishing catalogs or monographs, and by being a participant in various art fairs. The gallery is also known for its cooperation with emerging artists.

All images Courtesy of Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery Featured image: Hank Willis Thomas – All things being equal, 2010 | Hank Willis Thomas – Keep the Faith Baby (button), 2014 Video: #InequalityIs: Hank Willis Thomas on the role of artists in fighting inequality