Arts & Culture
6:48 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

'30 Americans' Showcases Black Artists' Experiences

Lake Effect's Bonnie North interviews artist Hank Willis Thomas and Milwaukee Art Museum curator Lisa Sutcliffe.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s latest exhibition, 30 Americans, opened last month to the public.

Hank Willis Thomas' "Branded Head, 2003" is on display at the "30 Americans" exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Credit Milwaukee Art Museum

Gathered from the Rubell Family Collection, 30 Americans features the works of 31 contemporary African American artists in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, prints, photographs, collages, and assemblages.

One of the featured artists, Hank Willis Thomas, says his work explores how African American men are represented in our culture through bold, striking photographs.

“As an artist, I am more interested in what people see than what I want them to see,” says Thomas. “I’m really interested in trying to encourage people to have discourse.”

He says he also tries to shed light on how advertising tends to ignore “the individuality that exists within a demographic.”

"Advertising is the most ubiquitous language in the world," he says. "Why is it only used by a select group of corporations to speak to all of us? Why can’t we use that same language, and maybe even those same symbols, to speak about other things that the corporations couldn’t and shouldn’t speak about?"

Milwaukee Art Museum curator of photography, Lisa Sutcliffe, says the exhibit is a stunning showcase of talent and expression.

“There’s a real range of art in the exhibition,” Sutcliffe says.  She adds that all of the artists “have ties to art historical traditions that reach out beyond what you might think of as marginalized.”

The national show and its statewide counterpart, Wisconsin 30, are both on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum until September 8th.

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