Every single one of Hank Willis Thomas’ searing artworks on view now at the Cincinnati Art Museum has a “ripped from the headlines” feel. Thomas examines, explores, interrogates and lays bare the Black experience in America with the varying subtlety of a scalpel and a sledgehammer.
Every piece seems to directly address one or more of the tragedies experienced throughout 2020 by America’s Black community. Take your pick from the recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Damien Daniels to the recent police shootings of Willie Henley and Jacob Blake, the modern day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, the disproportionate burden of Covid-19 deaths, the widening wealth gap, a resurgence in overt, public expressions of white supremacy or a throwback, race-baiting president sent from the Jim Crow-era.
This artwork, however, wasn’t inspired by 2020.
These pieces weren’t created in 2020.
Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… is a retrospective. The almost 100 works on display were created over the past 20 years. Thomas’ work reminds us that while millions of new advocates to the equal rights movement have been made in 2020, the traumas which have moved contemporary converts to action are nothing new to those suffering them directly.
The same traumas have been taking place for decades. Generations. Centuries.
“Hank Willis Thomas asks us to see and challenge systems of inequality that are woven into the fabric of contemporary life; he asks us to participate and understand that our participation in a gallery is continuous with participation in the world,” Nathaniel Stein, Associate Curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum, told Forbes.com. “His work invites us to look at history, be unafraid of the lessons it holds for our future, and–paraphrasing him–listen for the parts of each of us that are in others.”