Art

Hank Willis Thomas projected incarcerated individuals’ statements onto the U.S. Department of Justice building.

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 12, 2020 5:25PM, via Observer

Hank Willis Thomas's ongoing collaboration with Incarceration Nations Network, Writing on the Wall projected onto the U.S. Department of Justice building. Image courtesy of Chemistry Creative.

A work by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas was projected onto the United States Department of Justice building in Washington D.C. Thursday night. Part of Thomas’s ongoing project The Writing on the Wall, the hour-long piece showed an 11-minute loop of statements made by incarnated people around the world, addressing issues of mass incarceration both in the U.S. and globally.

Part of a longer collaboration between Thomas and the international think tank Incarceration Nations Network (INN), The Writing on the Wall aims to highlight the experiences of those who are contending with the improper safety measures and lack of healthcare access in prisons during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Thomas and INN lit up the Manhattan Detention Center with their statements. The Writing on the Wall was first developed seven years ago when INN’s executive director and founder, Dr. Baz Dreisinger invited Thomas to teach an art class to incarcerated individuals.

Thomas told the Observer:

Protest is an art form—you could in fact argue that some art is protest with its declaration of values and beliefs. Artists do not have to take permission to make art.

Last night’s collaboration also included technical assistance from video artist and journalist Robin Bell; art and activist collective The Illuminator; and design agencies Openbox and MASS Design Group. A shorter, two-minute version of the projection is currently being shown at a drive-in theater in Queens for the next three weeks. The projection will also travel to Columbus, Ohio and Mexico City in June.

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Daria Simone Harper
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