istanbul biennale : hank willis thomas istanbul biennale : hank willis thomas
oct 07, 2011

istanbul biennale : hank willis thomas

‘I am a man, from the series I am, amen’ image © designboom

american artist hank willis thomas‘ ‘I am a man, from the series I am, amen’ relates to protestor posters during the civil rights era, specifically for demonstration in memphis, tennessee in 1968 and is on show at the istanbul art biennale 2011.

growing up, the artist looked to the photographs of ernest withers which depicted dozens of african american men standing together in protest, each holding a sign saying, ‘I am a man’. thomas’ two-dimensional work consists of twenty panels which offer variations of this phrase. the artist found it interesting that it was necessary for large groups of people to come together and affirm their humanity in the USA, just eight years before the artist was born. 1968 was the last hurrah of the civil rights movement, and the artist feels he is a product of the integrationist strategies that followed.

‘I think of myself as a photo-conceptual artist in many ways. in this case, a photograph influenced by a series of paintings. I’ve always been fascinated with remixing and riffing, especially visually. growing up in the age of hip-hop, the phrase I heard most often was ‘I am the man,’ a reflection of the transition from collective statements during segregation to more individualistic statements during integration. the top row of paintings can be seen as a timeline dating back to the united states constitution, when an african american was represented as three-fifths of a man, to the rallying calls of sojourner truth, who said ‘ain’t I a woman’. I see the bottom row as a poem that starts with a playful rhythm and ends with an earnest affirmation rather than validating ourselves by anyone else’s standards, it suggests, the revelation is that consciousness alone is our greatest gift.‘ – hank willis thomas

‘I am. I am.’ / ‘I am. amen.’ image © designboom

installation view image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

‘ain’t I a woman.’ / ‘I am a woman.’ image © designboom

image © designboom

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