Born in 1976 in Plainfield, New Jersey, and raised in New York, Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual photographer whose work addresses issues of identity, politics, popular culture, and mass media pertaining to American race relations. He has been described as “a tough and thoughtful young artist whose images confront our sense of memory and history”.
Overtime 2011 is a video work that was first shown as part of a major exhibition Strange Fruit at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut and Corcoron Gallery, Washington, in 2012. Works in the exhibition explored how the concepts of spectacle and display connect to notions of African American identity.
Strange Fruit (from the powerful protest song popularised by singer Billie Holiday) examined two forms of spectacle—the culture of lynching and the commodification that surrounds professional sports—and analysed their impact on the presentation and the perception of the black body. By juxtaposing contemporary representations of athletes with historic images of lynching victims, the exhibition asked viewers to consider, remember, and question the transformation of black bodies into souvenirs and commercial objects, and showed how identity can be created through both historic and contemporary images.
Overtime 2011 depicts a lone basketball player who appears to be eerily suspended, frozen in mid-motion, with the ball hoop above him resembling a hangman’s noose. It is a powerful image that evokes an immediate response from the viewer.
Image: HANK WILLIS THOMAS Overtime 2011 5:00 minutes, music by Ditto Courtesy of the artist © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York