Goodman Gallery Cape Town is pleased to present History Doesn’t Laugh, a solo exhibition by Hank Willis Thomas first seen in our Johannesburg gallery earlier this year, which highlights the artist’s interest in representing photographic ideas through unconventional materials.
For this exhibition, Thomas 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.
A series of photo-derived sculptures cast in aluminum, silicone and bronze reframe the original image by focusing on the impact of hand gestures. In his more familiar style, the artist appropriates graphically striking political buttons and increases them in size to large-scale wall hangings. The exhibition 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.
Thomas is known for his extensive use of archival visual records to work through ideas that address the social constructions of race, gender, and commodity. He uses the black body in advertising to articulate how these ideas are generated in perpetuated in consumer culture. Recognising the similarity in histories between the United States and South Africa, Thomas revitalises and enhances his techniques to compliment his traditional oeuvre. In doing so, he smartly decodes popular images with the intention of proposing and unveiling new social and cultural meanings.
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.