Art News – Magazine

Hank Willis Thomas Stages a Photo Shoot
Text by Rachel Wolff

How Sanford Biggers came to strike a pose as a two-faced dandy


“It’s a little bit about blackface and minstrel-sy,” Thomas says. “I couldn’t figure out what the context was, except for Mary Poppins, which was out around the same time. But still, there’s this thing about white men with black covering them. It’s tens of years away from the minstrel era, and it’s only slightly different. Race has always been somewhat about class.”
Thomas wants to build his own take on the subject by combining the two images, riffing on this idea of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic hybridity, and fleshing out the deceptively complex characters embedded in each. He has enlisted fellow artist Sanford Biggers to collaborate and pose.
“I think Sanford’s work has been very much about cultural hybridity,” Thomas says. “He has done stuff with B-boys and hip-hop and Buddhism. He’s frequently engaged with that, and I thought he could be a kind of lens to talk about these issues.”
Biggers quickly got on board. “I think it’s an American knee-jerk response to equate black and white with literally blacks and whites. I want to find a way for it to be more nuanced,” he says. “And, in fact, I think it did that because this photograph and the character in it become more about duality and a more multifaceted being. It’s about the yin and yang, and pathology and moralism, and life and death. And superego. Those types of things. Which are things I’ve really been exploring in my recent work as well.”


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