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April 01, 2022

Acquisition: Hank Willis Thomas

Hank Willis Thomas, 'A Place to Call Home (Africa America Reflection)'

Hank Willis Thomas
A Place to Call Home (Africa America Reflection), 2020
stainless steel with mirrored finish
overall: 203.2 x 167.64 cm (80 x 66 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Firestone Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund
© Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a multidisciplinary artist who primarily works with themes related to identity, representation, mass media, and popular culture. The National Gallery has acquired his stainless-steel wall sculpture A Place to Call Home (Africa America Reflection) (2020), which draws a fictional map of an African American continent. It is the first sculpture by this celebrated artist to enter the collection.

Eight feet tall with a mirrored metal surface, A Place to Call Home outlines what appears to be the western hemisphere, but is actually North America nearly connected to Africa instead of South America. Maps, as this substitution implies, have often been used to represent the ideas and stories their makers want to tell rather than the actual topography. This map points to feelings of connection and detachment that many African Americans have toward Africa. As Thomas explains, a "mythical connection to Africa is embedded in your identity, but many people go to Africa looking for home and don’t find it because our roots are so diluted there. They also never felt at home in the U.S., where they were born. I wanted to make a place where African Americans come from." And in reflecting all viewers, A Place to Call Home also creates opportunities for empathy across cultures.

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