It is a truth universally acknowledged (thanks Jane Austen!) that advertising imagery does more than simply sell us particular products. Advertising imagery has to make us want those products, and in order to make us want those products, it has to make us feel certain things about ourselves, including, but not limited to making us feel insecure.
Enter Hank Willis Thomas, a 39 year old American conceptual artist, who is using real advertisements from the past century, featuring women, to detail how we’ve been represented in society during this time. By acknowledging that the underlying imagery in advertisements speaks far louder than the overlying copy, Hank Willis Thomas has removed the latter in order to reveal the imagery’s true meaning and message.
Image: Unbranded: A Century of White Women
Speaking to the Huffington Post about Unbranded: A Century of White Women, Hank Willis Thomas said of advertisements, “We read them before we’re even aware that we saw them, because most of us now are immediately literate. I first was making works that looked like ads, and then started to realize maybe truth was better than fiction. So I actually use real ads as a way to talk about how advertisements shape our notions of reality, our notions of ourselves and especially our notions of others”.
Hank Willis Thomas is interested in understanding the dichotomy between the facts that, for the past 100 years, on the one hand white women are represented as pure and important, but on the other hand white women have also been disenfranchised and are discriminated against. “…a hundred years ago women in the U.S. didn’t have the right to vote. And, even though African American men technically did, everything was done to make sure they didn’t. I’m interested in how white women — who are often seen as the most valuable — are at the same time marginalized”, Hank Willis Thomas told the Huffington Post.
Image: There ain’t nothing’ I can do nor nothing’ I can say, 124/2015 digital chromogenic print (framed)
Hank Willis Thomas has previously explored the representation of African-Americans in advertising, in his project, Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America.
Hank Willis Thomas’ exhibition is timely, considering we’re currently analysing how women are represented more thoroughly than we have before, particularly on social media. Instagram, for example, have just updated their policy on nudity, no doubt in part due to criticism they have received about the representation of women on the platform.
Image: Home Front, 1943/2015 digital chromogenic print
Recently, Canadian artist Rupi Kaur’s image, featuring a fully-clothed woman with a little bit of menstrual blood on her trackpants, was removed by Instagram, and we have unpacked how Instagram is perpetuating The Beauty Myth, and also asked why, when they remove images like Rupi Kaur’s, they haven’t done anything about the pro-Bulimia hashtag, #Mia?
Unbranded: A Century of White Women, runs from April 10th to May 23rd at the Jack Shaniman Gallery.
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