Social issues reframed
For the first time, a major museum survey of the work of conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas is being exhibited, and it'll make an impact on the people who see it at the Portland Art Museum.
"All Things Being Equal ..." will be on view through Jan. 12 at the museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave., and it addresses through bold and crafted works Thomas' vision of systems that perpetuate inequality and bias. There are photographs, sculptures, quilts, video and collaborative art projects in the exhibit, which features more than 90 works of the Brooklyn, New York-based artist.
The exhibit demonstrates his exploration of photography, advertising and modern art and their sociocultural ramifications — illuminating the human toll of gun violence, the impact of corporate branding and the commodification of individuals, and the ways advertising plays to myths and racial stereotypes. Even sports are examined.
"He invites us to consider the role of popular culture in instituting discrimination and how art can raise critical awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights," a news release stated.
It's organized by the Portland Art Museum and co-curated by Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski.
In addition to his works, the museum commissioned Thomas to create a new and monumental immersive, flag-based sculptural work addressing lives lost to gun violence in 2018. It's called "14,719 (2018)," signifying the people killed by guns.
"Hank Willis Thomas deftly confronts the most critical issues facing us today — racism, violence, inequality, injustice — through a range of visually dynamic, approachable artworks," Dolan said. "His photographs, sculptures and interactive media installations encourage thoughtful inquiry; they challenge viewers to acknowledge histories of struggle and the damaging legacies of oppressive systems without losing sight of the hope for meaningful change.
"The exhibition traces Thomas' multi-decade commitment to exploring that which divides us. It also forefronts his belief that confronting and acknowledging our collective past can help us move forward in constructive and collaborative ways."
Added Krajewski: "In both his solo work and his collaborations, Thomas asks us to reframe our perceptions of race, politics, history and popular culture so that we can better understand and combat the systems that dehumanize us."
Thomas' commissioned work greets visitors to the Portland Art Museum in the Schnitzer Sculpture Court.
Part of his inspiration was the loss of his cousin/friend Songha Willis from a shooting death on a "day of infamy," Feb. 2, 2000. Thomas has lived with the murder, and the fascination with guns in our society, since then.
"He was shot dead, execution-style, in front of dozens of people during a robbery in which he did not resist," said Thomas, 43. "That day of infamy was a day of horror, but it was also a day of redefinition. The word 'art' means something different to me now. It offers a little bit of hope for answers, or at least poses better questions.
"There have been more than 200,000 people killed by guns in the country since my family lost Songha. It is impossible to measure the magnitude and impact of this societal loss."
After Portland, the exhibit will be shown in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
For more: www.portlandartmuseum.org.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.