Viewing art is always an experience. Whether this experience is from discovering a new artist or style of expression, to feeling an emotional connection with a piece, the consumption of art takes place as a sensory journey.
Hank Willis Thomas’ new exhibition, “What We Ask Is Simple”, takes this sensory journey to a new level by presenting his art in the dark, giving audiences special viewing glasses with lights on the outer rim of the lenses to reveal the full image. Without the glasses, viewers are also able to see the image by using the flashlight function on their smart devices.
This is Thomas’ sixth solo exhibition, and focuses on protests of the 20th century in Africa, North America, and Europe. Though the images were from a variety of movements around the world, it was interesting to see the parallels in the expressions and overall emotion of the different groups of protesters. Organizing for an important cause is beautiful in its purity of expression. All parties involved are ardently fighting for their collective goals and this harmonious, most times righteous, discourse is necessary to be reflected on as it stands in contrast of the portrait of madness commonly portrayed in the media.
One of the most powerful images I viewed was a picture from what I recognized as an image from the civil rights movement in America. Without flash or the glasses, all you saw were a group of African American women walking down a sidewalk. With the flash, the full image revealed the white female protesters that were beside the African American women, with signs supporting segregation. I felt this image was powerful because without the flash, you weren’t able to see the conservative protesters, almost giving an homage to how racial social dynamics have changed, yet the flash reveals the history and context of the image, reminding viewers of what took place for those women to walk as free and proud as they do in the picture.
The opening of this exhibit was right on time, especially in lieu of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Assassination, which is on Wednesday, April 4th. Thinking of King’s legacy and impact on today’s society as we know it today brings more consciousness to the movements of today; the struggle for equality and freedom is a constant.
When it comes to protests and movements, looking back at the experiences of past movements is a great way to move forward and remember how far we’ve come, as well as how much further we have to go. Thomas’ exhibit does just that and more, through retroreflective imaging, sculpture, and mirroring.
Hank Willis Thomas' "What We Ask Is Simple" is on display at both Jack Shainman Gallery locations (513 W 20th and 524 W 24th Streets, NYC) until May 12th, 2018.