hank willis thomas

The New ICA San Francisco Opens Its Doors With an Artist-Curated Show About Black Women and Freedom


The Bay Area’s newest institution, the ICA San Francisco, celebrated the final phase of its opening last night, unveiling its biggest gallery space with a compelling group show on the importance of celebrating Black beauty, rest, and self expression, curated by California artists Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon.

Titled “Resting Our Eyes,” the exhibition features works from both big names and rising stars, with impressive loans by the likes of Carrie Mae Weems, Derrick Adams, Sadie Barnette, Genevieve Gaignard, and Simone Leigh.

Breon, who lives in Los Angeles, and Rasheed, who is from Oakland, met through the For Freedoms artist collective. (Group cofounder Hank Willis Thomas is among the artists featured in the show, along with his mother, photographer Deborah Willis.)

“So many people within the network just kept on assuming that we knew each other,” Breon told Midnight Publishing Group News at the exhibition’s opening reception. When they were finally introduced, the connection was instant.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at "Resting Our Eyes" at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by  Vikram Valluri for BFA.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at “Resting Our Eyes” at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by Vikram Valluri for BFA.

The two have spent the past year curating “Resting Our Eyes,” which offers a taste of founding ICA director Alison Gass’s socially minded vision for the institution, which looks to focus on under-represented voices in the art world.

The show’s theme was inspired by the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists who began meeting in 1974.

“Basically the idea is that if and when black women are free, everyone else in the world will inevitably be free, because the systems that oppress black women would have to be dismantled and everyone else would benefit from it,” Breon said.

“When T and I started thinking about the mechanisms for freedom, we kept going back to leisure and adornment,” she added. “We were looking for the artwork that tells the story how we adorn ourselves and how we prioritize rest, because we see both of those as really necessary acts.”

See some of the works from the show below.

Adana Tillman, <em>Wild Things</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adana Tillman, Wild Things (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gaignard, <em>Look What We've Become</em> (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Gaignard, Look What We’ve Become (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Easy in the Den</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Easy in the Den (2019).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter)</em> (1971/2008) from "Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America." Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Hank Willis Thomas, Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter) (1971/2008) from “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by
Corporate America.” Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Lauren Halsey, <em>Untitled</em> (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Lauren Halsey, Untitled (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Traci Bartlow, <em>Girl Boss</em> (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traci Bartlow, Girl Boss (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, <em>Headdress 1</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, Headdress 1 (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Ebony G. Patterson, <em>...they wondered what to do...for those who bear/bare witness</em> (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Ebony G. Patterson, …they wondered what to do…for those who bear/bare witness
(2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Resting Our Eyes” is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, 901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, January 21–June 25, 2023. 

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Standing Two Stories Tall, a Hank Willis Thomas Sculpture Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Is Unveiled on Boston Common


In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the city of Boston has unveiled its newest monument, a Hank Willis Thomas sculpture that now sits on the grounds of Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park.

Titled The Embrace, the bronze statue is a pair of larger-than-life interlocking arms, inspired by a photo of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, hugging after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Representing the mutual love and support that made the Kings’ activism possible, it is 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall—about two stories high—and weighs 38,000 pounds.

Cast in 609 pieces from a 3D-printed model at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington state, the massive work was fabricated, transported across the country, and installed in Boston against all odds.

“This was not supposed to happen—literally, there was a global pandemic in the middle of us trying to do a piece called Embrace,” Thomas said during the opening ceremony for the monument, which has been in the works since 2016. (His design, with MASS Design Group, was selected from 125 proposals.)

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A leader in the Civil Rights Movement known for his nonviolent activism, civil disobedience, and powerful speechmaking, King was assassinated in April 1968. In recognition of his birthday, January 15 has been celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday of every year since 1986. He would have been 94 this year.

But the new memorial also highlights the contributions of Coretta Scott King to the Civil Rights Movement—which she was involved in prior to meeting her husband, and remained a leader of after his untimely death.

The city of Boston is an important part of the Kings’ family history, as they met there as students in 1952, just a year before their marriage. King returned in April 1965, addressing a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature about the importance of segregation. The next day, he gave a speech at a Freedom Rally on Boston Common, after leading some 22,000 activists in a Civil Rights march from nearby Roxbury.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Little did I imagine that such a day was possible when I walked through this same Boston Common as a student 10 years ago,” King told the crowd. “This will go down as one of the greatest days that Boston has ever seen.”

That history was honored today at an over-two-hour event marking the installation of The Embrace, which sits at the center of the new 1965 Freedom Plaza, designed by MASS Design Group. The floor features bronze name plates amid the titles honoring other Civil Rights activists who marched with King, nominated by community members.

The city of Boston hopes the work will become a major tourist attraction akin to the Statue of Liberty, with Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley telling the assembled crown that people will travel from all over the world to pay tribute to the Kings and see the “profound work of art—like their love, a masterpiece.”

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The program featured speeches by dignitaries Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, and former Governor Deval Patrick, as well as Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, the nonprofit that spearheaded the project—he spoke with tears in his eyes, overcome by the moment.

But it was King’s only granddaughter, 14-year-old Yolanda Renee King, who stole the show, speaking after her parents, Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King. Clearly an impressive young orator in the making, Yolanda was unruffled even when the wind nearly blew away the notes of her prepared speech.

And when NBC10 Boston anchor and the event’s master of ceremonies Latoyia Edwards asked the young girl to tell the crowd more about herself, Yolanda spoke off the cuff in impassioned tones about continuing her grandparents’ work striving for justice no matter what, and praised the statue memorializing their legacy.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“This is almost like love 360, because this monument is dedicated to their love, and we really need more love in this world,” Yolanda said.

Thomas agreed, embracing—pun intended—Love 360 as an alternative title for the work, which allows viewers to stand inside the arms, as if encircled by a hug. He hopes the monument will be seen a manifestation of the Kings’ love and the power of that emotion. It is also a visible symbol of the Black experience and Black joy, despite generations of struggle faced by the Black community.

“It’s really about the capacity for each of us to be enveloped in love,” Thomas said.

A group show of Hank Willis Thomas’s art collective, For Freedoms, “Let Love Quiet Fear” is on view of Praise Shadows Art Gallery, 313A Harvard Street, Brookline, January 12–February 12, 2023.

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In a Louisville Museum Show, Artists Reflect on the Legacy of Breonna Taylor and Other Black Lives Lost to Gun Violence—See Images Here


Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Art Museum
Through June 6, 2021

 

What the museum says: “Promise, Witness, Remembrance at the Speed Art Museum will reflect on the life of Breonna Taylor, her killing in 2020, and the year of protests that followed, in Louisville and around the world. The exhibition explores the dualities between a personal, local story and the nation’s reflection on the promise, witness, and remembrance of too many Black lives lost to gun violence.

In ‘Promise,’ artists explore ideologies of the United States of America through the symbols that uphold them, reflecting on the nation’s founding, history, and the promises and realities, both implicit and explicit, contained within them. In ‘Witness,’ they address the contemporary moment, building upon the gap between what a nation promises and what it provides through artworks that explore ideas of resistance across time, form, and context. In ‘Remembrance,’ they address gun violence and police brutality, their victims, and their legacies.”

Why it’s worth a look: Just about 13 months after Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisiana police officers in her home, the Speed Museum’s exhibition is thoughtful, moving, and deeply unsettling. The focal point is Amy Sherald’s portrait of Taylor, looking regal in a bright blue dress, standing with hand on hip, forever 26 and beautiful. The painting, which is owned jointly by the Speed Museum and the Smithsonian, is situated at the end of a dark gallery, with a timeline of Breonna’s life printed on the walls.

As the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd rages on, and TV channels run competing stories about the death of two more Black men (Daunte White, and Adam Toledo), the inclusion of Khalil Joseph’s BLKNWS®, a fictional news channel dedicated to a celebration of Black life, reminds viewers that media portrayals seem almost exclusively to report on Black death.

Other works in the show are alternately beautiful and horrific, and sometimes both, as in Nick Cave’s Unarmed, a bronze sculptural hand raised surrounded by a wreath of flowers, or Hank Willis Thomas’s simple neon, Remember Me.

What it looks like:

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, <i>Butterfly Eyes (for Breonna Taylor),</i> (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Wendi Norris Gallery, San Francisco.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Butterfly Eyes (for Breonna Taylor), (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Wendi Norris Gallery, San Francisco.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Nick Cave, <i>Unarmed</i> (2018). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shaninman Gallery.

Nick Cave, Unarmed (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

Glen Ligon, Aftermath (2020). Photo: Ron Amstutz © Glenn Ligon Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, NY Regen Projects, LA, Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Noel W Anderson, Check the skin, (2012 -2018) Courtesy of the artist, from his private collection.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Xavier Burrell, <I>SAY HER NAME!!</i> September 18, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Xavier Burrell, SAY HER NAME!! September 18, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Xavier Burrell, The Frontlines, September 23, 2020, Daniel Cameron’s Louisville office/Shelbyville Rd. Courtesy of the artist.

Installation view, of Amy Sherald's portrait of Breonna Taylor in "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, of Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor in “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Hank Willis Thomas, Remember Me (2014). © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hank Willis Thomas, Remember Me (2014). © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

T.A. Yero, <i>Healing</i>, June 15, 2020, 7:41pm, Breonna Taylor Memorial at Jefferson Square Park, Louisville, KY. Courtesy of the artist

T.A. Yero, Healing, June 15, 2020, 7:41pm, Breonna Taylor Memorial at Jefferson Square Park, Louisville, KY. Courtesy of the artist

Lorna Simpson, <i>Same</i> (1991). © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Lorna Simpson, Same (1991). © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, "Promise, Witness, Remembrance" at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

Installation view, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Museum. Photo: Xavier Burrell.

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Hank Willis Thomas’s Poignant Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Will Be Unveiled in Boston Next Fall


A 22-foot-tall bronze memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King will be unveiled next year in the country’s oldest public park.  

Designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas with a team of architects from the MASS Design Group, the sculpture, destined for Boston Common, depicts two disembodied pairs of arms in a tender embrace—a gesture based on a photograph of the couple hugging after Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. 

The Kings, Thomas said in a statement when his design was chosen, are a “monumental [example] of the capacity of love to shape society.” 

Led by King Boston, a private nonprofit committed to furthering the legacy of the couple, the project has been in the works since 2016. The organization selected Thomas’s memorial from a shortlist of five proposals, including designs by artists Krzysztof Wodiczko, Adam Pendleton, and Yinka Shonibare, in 2019.

Now, the monumental artwork has an approximate launch date: October 2022, just in time for a Boston-based summit of music, arts, and civic educational work centered around issues and racial and economic justice. 

The Embrace, as the memorial is called, will be installed on a new plaza named after Dr. King’s 1965 march from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to Boston Common. The event came a day after King spoke in favor of desegregating schools at a joint legislative session at the Massachusetts State House.

King Boston executive director Imari Paris Jeffries tells Midnight Publishing Group News that he hopes the memorial—which arrives at a time when the United States is reckoning with what kind of history its monuments tell—will “inspire a new civic narrative.”

“Boston has the opportunity to be the very first city in the nation to emerge post-vaccine as a place that embodies values of justice,” Jeffries says. “Now more than ever people want to ’embrace’ friends, loved ones, and each other. This is a symbol of that sentiment.”

A rendering of<i>The Embrace</i> on the Boston Common. Courtesy of King Boston.

A rendering of The Embrace on the Boston Common. Courtesy of King Boston.

King Boston has raised some $12 million for the project so far, over half of which has come in since June of this year, according to the Boston Globe, when cities around the country saw Black Lives Matter demonstrations flood their streets. Jeffries and his team are hoping to secure another $3 million in private and corporate donations.

The urgency of this moment, Jeffries says, has only been underscored by the lockdown era, which has “exacerbated social inequality and revealed, as King reminded us, that we are tied together in ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’ and a ‘single garment of destiny.’”

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