Hank Willis Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas is one of America’s most powerful conceptual artists. He focuses on, “the seductiveness of advertising” and how it affects identity.
Early Life and Education
Hank Willis Thomas was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1976. His father is jazz musician, Hank Thomas. His mother, Deborah Willis, is the chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at New York University. Dr. Willis is one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography, and was named one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” by American Photography magazine.
Thomas received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography and Africana Studies from NYU in 1988. He graduated from the California College of Arts in 2004 with a Master of Fine Arts in Photography and a Master of Arts in Visual Criticism.
Much of Thomas’ work looks at the way advertising, usually conceived by white males, uses images to reinforce generalizations about race and gender.
In his series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America. 1968-2008, Thomas removed the text and logos from ads featuring African Americans and, by doing so, uncovered what stereotypes were being used to sell products. His next series, Unbranded: A Century of White Women. 1915-2015, Thomas chose two ads from each year and removed the text, leaving a series of sometimes disturbing images that trace the advertiser’s presentation of women as they moved from home to workforce.
Thomas says that, “logos are our generation’s hieroglyphics” and he finds ways. “to use the language of advertising to talk about things that advertising is not supposed to talk about.”
Thomas’ work can be found in the collections of the Whitney, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA and other venues around the world.