History Doesn’t Laugh is Hank Willis Thomas’s first solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The show highlights the artist’s interest in representing photographic ideas through unconventional materials.
For this exhibition, he scoured numerous publications and archives looking for graphics, images and audio that exemplify, through popular culture, South Africa’s recent history. The result is a fascinating combination of installations, objects, and prints that present the visual complexities of the not so distant past.
Thomas is debuting a series of photo-derived sculptures cast in aluminum, silicone and bronze that reframe the original image by focusing on the impact of hand gestures. In his more familiar style, he appropriates graphically striking political buttons and increases them in size to large-scale wall hangings. The show also includes screen-printed images from various magazines re-contextualised in a manner that exaggerates the hyper-reality of the time in which they were originally produced.
HANK WILLIS THOMAS is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands. Thomas’ work is included in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), Writing on the Wall, and the artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement For Freedoms, which in 2017 was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2019), the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2018), Art for Justice Grant (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a member of the New York City Public Design Commission. Thomas holds a B.F.A. from New York University (1998) and an M.A./M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts (2004). In 2017, he received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.