Black History Month: Hank Willis Thomas

Hank Willis Thomas

(March 17, 1976 – Currently Living)

25th - HankWillisThomas_portrait


[su_note note_color=”#40cd11″ radius=”5″]Noteworthy Accomplishments & Historical Facts [su_list icon_color=”#191f17″]
  • A Well-Respected Artist who creates pieces to call attention to identity, race, stereotypes,and history
  • Created the Question Bridge: Black Males along with three other artists

The Artist Within

Hank Willis Thomas is a contemporary African-American visual artist and photographer whose primary interests are identity, advertising/branding, history, and pop culture. He was born on March 17, 1976, to Hank Thomas and Deborah Willis, PhD. His mother  is an art photographer and an New York University (NYU) professor. She was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2000 MacArthur Fellow, and one of the nation’s leading historians of African-American photography and curator of African-American culture. His father is a jazz musician, film producer, real estate developer, and a stock broker.

Hank received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and his Master of Fine Arts (MFA)  in photography, along with an Master of Arts (MA) in visual criticism from California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco.

His work has been featured in publications and museums all around the country, as well as internationally. He is known for creating pieces that are not only interesting to look at, but has the ability to invoke the psyche. For instance, here he is talking about his Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 series.

“I wanted to track “blackness” in the mind of corporate America over these years and thought that by digitally removing all the text, we could simply look at them as images. As with most art, we bring our own preconceptions in decoding and reading them.”

In another effort to explore certain stereotypes and preconceived notions among Black males, Hank was looking for innovative ways to get the conversation going. This is how Question Bridge: Black Males came about.

The History Behind Question Bridge: Black Males

“Question Bridge originated in 1996, when artist Chris Johnson was looking for a way to use media art to generate a meaningful conversation around class and generational divisions within San Diego’s African American community. Mediated through the lens of a video camera, ten members of the black community were given a format to openly express their deeply felt beliefs and values through candid question and answer exchanges. None of the questions or answers were prompted. A decade later, Hank Willis Thomas approached Johnson about collaborating to establish a similar project focused on Black men. Over the past four years, Johnson, along with Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, have traveled the nation collecting questions and answers from over 150 Black men in eleven cities including: New York, Chicago, Oakland, San Francisco, Birmingham, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. The resulting video project contains of over 1,500 exchanges. By focusing on exchanges within this extended community, surprising insights and new possibilities for witnessing our common humanity emerge” (

The Purpose Behind the Project

According to Hank, many Black men have been able to transcend racial, cultural, and economic boundaries while others have found themselves increasingly confined to the margins of society. Black men are still over-represented in prisons and high school dropout rates, and suffer disproportionately from various preventable health risks and as victims of homicide.

“Empirical data shows Americans, including Black people, still harbor negative associations with Black males that directly impact their ability to function successfully in this country. Of particular concern are statistics which demonstrate that the over-representation of Blacks males in the penal system and the disciplinary processes in schools does not correlate to the behavior. In reality, Black males are not more violent, more criminal, or more disruptive than their White male peers.”



The main goal of the project is to make it more difficult to say, “Black males are ___.” Question Bridge: Black Males is looking to heal, dispel myths, and debunk stereotypes.

“If we succeed in deconstructing stereotypes about arguably the most opaque and feared demographic in America, then the Question Bridge model can work to overcome limiting assumptions about any demographic.”

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Hank Willis Thomas

Question Bridge


Brooklyn Museum