Hank Willis Thomas 2

Hank Willis Thomas
b. Plainfield, New Jersey, 1976

Amelia Falling, 2014
Glass mirror and silver

60 x 48 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Amelia Falling represents a new dimension in Hank Willis Thomas’s work. While appropriated photography remains at its core, the use of a mirror as a support adds a significant layer of meaning to the work, as the viewer becomes personally implicated in the scene depicted. The work’s form immediately recalls the “mirror pieces” made by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto in the 1960s, who called what he produced “self-portraits of the world.”

Though perhaps not immediately recognizable, the woman at the center of Amelia Falling is an important historical figure: Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, a key organizer of the marches for African American voting rights that took place in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. This photograph shows her clubbed and teargassed by Alabama state troopers, who attacked a group of 600 peaceful marchers on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Captured by Spider Martin, a freelance photojournalist for The Birmingham News, a similar image (one of Boynton Robinson on the ground and unconscious) was widely circulated in newspapers and news magazines around the globe. In August of the same year, Amelia Boynton Robinson was a guest of honor—along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

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