Americas

Hank Willis Thomas
Intentionally Left Blanc

Intentionally Left Blanc alludes to the technical process of its own (non)production; a procedure known as retro-reflective screen printing in which the image is only fully brought to life through its exposure to flash lighting. Using a found photograph depicting a passionate crowd of African Americans—their attitude suggesting the fervor of a civil-rights era audience—Intentionally Left Blanc reverts in its exposed, “positive” format to an image in which select faces are whitened out and erased, the exact inverse of the same view in its “negative” condition. This dialectic of light and dark re-emerges when we view the same faces again, only this time black and featureless, a scattering of disembodied heads amidst a sea of white. The context of the photograph was during protests in the 6os against gerrymandering and redistricting that sought to segregate the black and white populations. Here, Thomas approaches the situation with a revisionist eye, this time erasing and removing the white audience members, and thereby ironically reclaiming the same action they took against the black community.

Employing the visual language and terminology of mass media, and appropriating symbols and images from popular culture, Hank Willis Thomas’ work seeks to question and subvert established definitions and positions with regards to personal identity and the narrative of race. Working across installation, photography, video, and media work, Thomas maintains his photo conceptualist roots, primarily taking source material from found photographs and archives. These images form the basis from which the artist seeks to uncover the fallacies that history claims as truth. His work illustrates how the way history is represented and consumed reinforces generalizations surrounding identity, gender, race and ethnicity, and that as an artist he has an opportunity to expose or to revise those histories from the points of view of the oppressed.