Artwork Details

Hank Willis Thomas
American

b. 1976

Remember Me
2014
Medium
Neon
Dimensions
23 5/8 x 59 1/16 inches
Location
Level 3
Accession Number
2021.65
Credit
Museum Purchase

About the Artwork

Hank Willis Thomas explores the themes of identity, history, and popular culture. Trained as a photographer, his art takes many forms – photographs, sculpture, video, and here, neon lighting. Throughout his career, he has used the look and materials of signage and advertising in his art. Thomas is interested in how mass media shapes reflect social attitudes about race, class, and identity. Thomas uses neon’s capacity to gain and hold our attention to great effect. With Remember Me, he softens the eye-catching neon format by rendering the phrase in a graceful black script. Thomas reverses the typical presentation of neon, in which black customarily covers the back of the sign.

Thomas wants his work to amplify the presence and memory of the Black community, often honoring those whose lives were overlooked during their lifetimes. With Remember Me, he poignantly conveys a message of historical disregard. The actual source for the artwork is a handwritten note on a vintage postcard that Thomas discovered. The front of the postcard features a photo of an unidentified young Black man. On the back, the man had written, Remember me.” Such portrait studio postcards were popular within the Black community in the early 20th century, an inexpensive way for individuals to hand out or send pictures of themselves to friends and relatives. The young man stands outdoors, wearing a jacket and tie, and holding a small firearm. He is wearing a broad-brimmed campaign hat,” a style of hat that has been worn as part of numerous military uniforms. Notably, the hat was worn by the Black cavalry regiments that the U.S. Army formed in 1866 known as Buffalo Soldiers.

By creating an artwork using this young man’s otherwise adrift message, Thomas honors the many individuals who actively participate in society, but who are not often recognized or remembered. With Remember Me, he has transformed a humble, handwritten note into a shining work of tribute.