UAB’s AEIVA presents “Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded” May 31-Aug. 10

Thomas removed all branding from advertisement photography aimed at African American audiences for more than four decades to create the series.

HankWillisJoomlaHANK WILLIS THOMAS, "Farewell Uncle Tom," 1971/2007 LightJet Print ©️ Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.Advertising photography aimed at African American audiences for more than four decades is the basis of a series by artist Hank Willis Thomas, on exhibition May 31-Aug. 10 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Thomas removed all branding from the advertisements. The resulting series, “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008,” decontextualizes advertising images targeted toward African American audiences in print magazines including Ebony and Jet. 

UAB’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts will present “Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded” from May 31-Aug. 10. A free opening reception will be from 6-8 p.m. Friday, May 31. The AEIVA is free and open to the public. 

A panel discussion on the legacy of lynching and racial terror in the deep south and the role of art as a conduit for reconciliation and healing is scheduled at 5 p.m. in the AEIVA, with moderator DeReef Jamison, Ph.D., associate professor of African American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at UAB. Panelists will include Paulette Dilworth, Ph.D., vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UAB; AEIVA Curator John Fields; Darrell Forte, president of the African American Studies Association at UAB; Abigail Schneider, project director, Jefferson County Memorial Project; and Charles Woods, education programs manager, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Thomas is considered to be one of the most significant artists of his generation, and “Unbranded” is easily one of the most vital bodies of artistic works created in the last decade, says AEIVA Curator John Fields. The result is a simple but shockingly insightful commentary on the ability of advertising to shape cultural development and perceptions. Using the years of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and President Barack Obama’s election as start and end points, Thomas challenges viewers to distinguish between the messages conveyed through text and visual imagery.

AEIVA’s presentation of “Unbranded” marks the first time this body of work has been exhibited in its entirety in Alabama.

UAB’s AEIVA is open to the public 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 12-6 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Sundays and holidays.