By Ashley Reid
A bald man’s head branded with the Nike symbol, a reproduction of a Gap Red ad, altered with the words Ebony Life, and a photo-and-film combination of a man slam-dunking a basketball through a lynching noose. These are just some of the striking and shocking images at Hank Willis Thomas’ art show “Other People’s Property” or “OPP,” currently on exhibit through March 8th in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford. The show, curated by Kalia Brooks, could best be defined as a socially charged exhibition on the politics of commodifying African American men’s bodies. The exhibit combines past and present identities within several types of medium including light jet prints, photography, animation, painting and live film
One of the collection’s goals is a satirical interpretation of African American men’s masculinity, history and identity, using modern day corporate images to demand viewers to question the way African American men are treated in society. Another piece, probably less obvious in its statement, is a placid display of a bottle’s silhouette looking out to the ocean and named Absolut No Return, perhaps suggesting the exodus of millions of slaves from Old World slave posts to the Americas. It’s a magnificent image full of nostalgia, anxiety, anticipation, fear and serenity. It’s almost as if the viewer is looking through the eyes of, but not necessarily identifying with, an African slave. The exhibit, though it may not be relatable to everyone, promotes awareness about what’s at stake for African American men’s identities in the future.
The overall show is exact, illuminating, innovative and complex. It refreshes our awareness of our social conceptions and expectations. Whether some racial statements are obvious or not, the works of art really engage the viewer to admire the creative puns, metaphors, social and political statements. There are several pieces that repeat the theme of lynching, basketball and branding, which prick our conscience into cognitive dissonance about how the lines between past and present are blurring. So go take a walk to the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and get ready to own up to society’ s consequences of having made African American men into Other People’s Property, past and present.