South Africa Righteous Space by Hank Willis Thomas is concerned with history and identity, with the way race and ‘blackness’ has not only been informed but deliberately shaped and constructed by various forces – first through colonialism and slavery, and more recently through mass media and advertising – and reminds us of the financial and economic stakes that have always been involved in representations of race.
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.