“Can the ubiquitous language of commodity culture and advertising be employed to speak to, and about, more than merchandise and celebrity? If so, to what end?”— Hank Willis Thomas
About an hour northwest of New York City, a small museum, The Aldrich Contemporary, is exhibiting from now until late September, the work of an artist who will make you think. Hank Willis Thomas’s series, “Strange Fruit,” isn’t pulling any punches. The title of a famous Billie Holiday song written to protest southern lynchings and racist violence, “Strange Fruit,” in the 21st Century, has even greater connotations.
Thomas’s images confront and provoke. They’re beautiful and they’re troublesome. Their impact, however, will be mitigated by what the viewer brings to the experience. For the values and ideas we all bear, frame our interpretations. I find these images potent and dark. They’re reminders of the complexities surrounding economics, history, race and class in our visual culture. But what others see, I can’t say. And like Hank Willis Thomas, I also ask, “If so, to what end?” —Lane Nevares