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Hank Willis Thomas

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Recorded via Zoom on Thursday, March 11, 2021

Through photographs, sculpture, video, audience-activated and collaborative public art projects, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas addresses the role of popular visual culture in perpetuating discrimination and sociocultural ramifications, including gun violence, the relationship between the American sports industry and black men, the perpetuation of stereotypes through contemporary advertising, and the reframing of history and context.

Thomas was joined for this artist talk by friend, colleague, and For Freedoms co-founder Eric Gottesman, assistant professor of photography at Purchase College.

Support for this program is provided by the New York Community Trust—Yaseen Lectures on the Fine Arts.

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About the Artist

HANK WILLIS THOMAS (b. 1976, Plainfield, NJ; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.

In his work, Thomas often seeks out and utilizes recognizable icons from popular branding and marketing campaigns. In using icons and other nods to popular culture, he encourages the viewer to question commercial consumer representation and the racial stereotypes it perpetuates. Invested in framing and context, Thomas looks to the ways popular imagery informs how people perceive themselves and others around the world and how art can raise critical awareness in the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights. His work spans across many disciplines and media and his public works often encourage viewer participation, engagement, and contribution.

His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), Writing on the Wall, and the artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement For Freedoms. Thomas is a recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2018), Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2018), Art for Justice Grant (2018), AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a former member of the New York City Public Design Commission.

Visit the artist’s website for full bio and selected works.

About the Yaseen Lectures on the Fine Arts

Every two years the Yaseen Lectures on the Fine Arts brings acclaimed scholars and artists to the Neuberger Museum of Art and Purchase College to discuss their work and address contemporary ideas and issues. Since the biennial lecture series began in 1974, featured speakers have included Claes Oldenburg, Maya Angelou, Faith Ringgold, Chuck Close, John Shearer, and Purchase College alumnus Fred Wilson. The lectures are endowed by a gift from the late Leonard C. Yaseen and his wife Helen, former residents of Larchmont, New York; who financed a similar series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


February 18, 2021

List of speakers


  • Tracy Fitzpatrick

    Director, Neuberger Museum of Art


  • Hank Willis Thomas
    Conceptual Artist and Co-Founder of For Freedoms

  • Eric Gottesman
    Assistant Professor of Photography at Purchase College
    Co-Founder of For Freedoms

Q&A Moderator

  • Diana Puglisi

    Curator of Education, Youth & Adult Programs, Neuberger Museum of Art