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Hank Willis Thomas
Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America

On view April 20–July 30, 2023 at the LSU Museum of Art

American artist Hank Willis Thomas investigates race, identity, and class, with a focus on African American imagery and references in advertising, media, and popular culture. His highly collected and exhibited conceptual photographs and digitally manipulated imagery comments on contemporary race relations and reveals concealed bigotry and prejudices. Thomas’s series Unbranded surveys fifty years of print advertising targeting African Americans. Drawn from advertisements published in prominent African American magazines such as Ebony and Jet, the appropriated source materials span from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Thomas strips the advertisements of text and all references to product names and slogans. The resulting images of African Americans in clearly manufactured poses and environments uncover subliminal messages of inequality and reinforce cultural stereotypes often conceived and disseminated through popular culture.

This exhibit features a selection of forty images, drawn from the original series of eighty-two artworks, organized by LSU MOA Curatorial Fellow, Clarke Brown. We would like to thank Alabama art collectors Becky Patterson and Doug McCraw for generously loaning the selection from their complete set.

Hank Willis Thomas lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His art has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in many prestigious private and institutional collections. Thomas recently unveiled his Boston monument The Embrace, dedicated to the married Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The sculpture depicts a cropped view of the couple embracing after accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The bronze and steel sculpture is the centerpiece of a new plaza honoring Civil Rights leaders active between 1950 and 1970. His work has exhibited nationally and internationally in venues including The International Center of Photography in New York, The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami in Florida, The Baltimore Museum of Art in Maryland, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Thomas’s art is held in many prestigious private and institutional collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in California, and the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris.

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