With his photographs, videos, and installations, Hank Willis Thomas explores the rich terrain of the past and present. He collaborates with his peers and encourages non-artists to build projects that focus on the diversity of humanity, including the western media’s images of blackness. His pieces argue that everyone has a voice and an obligation to question cultural norms.
One such project, Question Bridge: Black Males is both a portable dialogue and video installation. This hybrid art-and-social project by collaborators Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair is on view concurrently at the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. With the intent to challenge stereotypes and redefine black male identity, the creators traveled around eleven US cities to interview one hundred and fifty men. Willis Thomas irreverently refers to this process as “art by committee.”
The piece’s Brooklyn Museum iteration consisted of five channels, alternating between clips of talking subjects to create a dialogue as if it were happening in real time. As the artists weave disparate interviews into a cohesive conversation, the viewer becomes a part of the discussion, touching on topics like class, stereotypes, relationships, education, and so forth. The men are light-skinned and dark-skinned, old and young, and speak with different cadences and accents—representing a diversity that challenges any uniform definition of black.
Question Bridge is currently on view at the Oakland Museum of Contemporary Art until July 8, and the project will add more exhibition venues in the next two years. A feature-length documentary, mobile app, and user-generated website are also in the works.