Hank Willis Thomas on Black Progress

Hank Willis Thomas, Unity, 2019 Artwork credit: © Hank Willis Thomas, Unity, 2019, an original work commissioned by the City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Design and Construction. Photo credit: NYC Department of Design and Construction / Matthew Lapiska
ACT at MIT

This fall, ACT is co-sponsoring a lecture series as part of MAS.S63 | Black Mobility and Safety in the US I, a new course taught by Ekene Ijeoma, Director of the Poetic Justice Group at the MIT Media Lab.

On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, beginning at 2pm, Hank Willis Thomas and Hugh Hayden will join the class as the first guests of the semester, and will be responding to the prompt of Black Progress.

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. Influenced by social history and the hard-fought, perennial battle for equality in all areas of his work, Thomas co-founded For Freedoms with artist Eric Gottesman in 2016 as a platform for creative civic engagement in America. More broadly, Thomas’ projects, both personal and collaborative, explore Black progress in the 21st century, often considering overlooked historical narratives. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands. Thomas received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, MD and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, ME in 2017.

Hugh Hayden is an artist working primarily with themes related to history, identity, and citizenship. Through sculpture, large-scale installations, and interactive food events, his work often confronts the making of America and challenges existing narratives and potentialities. More broadly, his practice considers the anthropomorphization of the natural world as a visceral lens for exploring the human condition. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey; Lisson Gallery, New York and London; White Columns, New York; JTT, New York; Clearing, New York and Brussels; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; PPOW Gallery, New York; Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York; Postmasters Gallery, New York; MoMA PS1, Rockaway Beach, New York; Socrates Sculpture Park, New York; and Abrons Art Center, New York, among others. He is the recipient of residences at Glenfiddich in Dufftown, Scotland (2014); Abrons Art Center and Socrates Sculpture Park (both 2012), and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (2011). He holds an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.

In this seminar and studio, Ijeoma will guide students to listen, learn, reflect and respond to issues around mobility (physical, mental, socio-economical, political, etc) and safety for Black Americans through words, images, and sounds that reference social science and anti-racist research. Weekly meetings will be organized around public lectures from guests ranging from designers and urban planners to activists and social scientists, and private individual presentations for the group.

Part of a two-semester course, Black Mobility and Safety in the US is organized into two-week topics around living while Black. The first semester (Fall 2020) will include: birthing, breathing, sleeping, eating, and walking; the second: learning, voting, driving, working, and loving. By the end of each semester, students will have the resources and tools to actively listen and respond critically to issues of Black mobility in the context of their own fields and their purposes.

Link for Hank Willis Thomas lecture on Tuesday, September 8.