HARTFORD, CT.- A new collaborative exhibition featuring the works of Willie Cole and Hank Willis Thomas, entitled Digging Deeper, will open this fall at The Amistad Center for Art & Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art . Both Cole and Thomas were invited to explore The Amistad Center’s extensive collection of art, artifacts, and archives which document the African American experience and respond with new works inspired by this rich source material. The show will also include additional objects from The Amistad Center’s collection to highlight the common threads between historical characterizations of race and present-day conceptions of African American culture. Digging Deeper is on view from September 19, 2009 through April 4, 2010.
Cole and Thomas are both known for their transformation and reinterpretation of identifiable objects into works of art, many of which reference race and socio-cultural issues. Cole is best known for his use of irons and ironing boards to create images of slave ships and African masks. His work often references his family’s history as domestic workers and their roots in Africa. For Digging Deeper, he created several new pieces including a video piece entitled Remembering Mammy, which references the place of the mammy figure in historic and contemporary culture.
Willie Cole was born in New Jersey and lives and works there today. He attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts in New York (from which he received his B.F.A. in 1976), and the Art Students League in New York. He has won numerous awards and grants and has exhibited his art throughout the United States. His work can be found in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Thomas recently gained notoriety for his photographic works, which provide commentary on branding and consumer culture and often re-appropriate advertisements and other instantly recognizable symbols to suggest the exploitation and commoditization of African American culture. Thomas’ work for Digging Deeper includes a large scale mixed media installation entitled Greetings from the Sunny South,which is a house-like structure that incorporates more than 500 post cards from The Amistad Center's collection. The post cards depict stereotypical imagery as well as personal photographs that were adapted to post card form.
Willis Thomas' works often comment on branding and the commodification of African American culture. Best known for his photographs, Willis Thomas works in a wide range of media including film and site specific installations. He often combines historical illustrations, portraiture, and product design with references to consumer culture. The resulting works at times evoke a wry humor or a withering critique. In 2002 Willis Thomas gained wide recognition for a series called B®anded, a group of images created by digitally adding a scarred "Nike" logo to the chest and head of an African American male model. In this series, Willis Thomas highlights the complicated role of African American males in the production and consumption of their own images in the marketplace. More generally this provocative series of photographs focuses on consumer branding within America's commodity-obsessed culture, and the extent to which advertisers target racial groups and exploit the black male body for marketing and product promotion. Similar to the works of Andy Warhol and other appropriation artists of the 1980s, Willis Thomas alludes to the psychological repercussions of these representations and how these characterizations shape and define the public's perceptions about race and class.
The artists also created two cabinets of curiosity inspired by pieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art – where The Amistad Center is housed. One cabinet, titled “Curious objects from the demise of a peculiar institution,” holds objects from The Amistad Center’s collection including advertisements, product packages, and other objects of ephemera that seem immediately offensive to today’s viewers, but were once readily accepted by society. The other cabinet, called “Curious objects from the now yet to be understood,” includes objects contributed by both Cole and Thomas that are unproblematic today, but may be questioned by future generations. Visit : http://www.wadsworthatheneum.