Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976). Why wait another day to be adorable? Tell your beautician “Relax me” 1968/2007. Chromogenic photograph, 34 1/8 x 30 in. (86.7 x 76.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Mary Smith Dorward Fund and gift of Robert Smith, by exchange, 2010.18.1
In the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America, Hank Willis Thomas appropriates print advertisements from 1968 to the present that targeted a black audience or featured black subjects. From the original ads, taken from popular magazines such as Ebony and Essence, the artist digitally removed all text as well as logos. The remaining figures and scenarios are often both captivating and perplexing, especially in juxtaposition with the sometimes witty and provocative titles given to each image by the artist (which include the original date of the ad followed by the date of the Willis Thomas work).
Starting with ads from 1968, a dramatic year in American history as well as a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement, Willis Thomas seeks to reveal visual advertising strategies that are based on cultural stereotypes about African American life. Through his method of “unbranding,” the artist exposes how commodity culture’s generalizations about race, gender, and ethnicity have come to seem almost natural to consumers.