Art Imitates Nation: A Conversation with Hank Willis Thomas, Artist Behind ‘The Embrace

On April 8, join us for a conversation between Hank Willis Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities and Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In-Person Event

JFK Jr. Forum, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm EDT

Register *For individuals with a Harvard ID only


A bronze statue shows two hands embracing
Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz via Flickr

The American national narrative relies on stories of overcoming a racial past — presenting a country continuously outwitting injustice. Integral to the successful adoption of this narrative is the hypervisible representation of Black people and culture in the public eye.

Award-winning conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas experiments with representation and national narrative. His art shows that if aesthetic representation is necessary to craft a national narrative, it can disrupt one just as well. Thomas’ works — which span photography, sculpture, installation and textile — interrogate how art, systemic racism and the commodification of Black struggle became intertwined with American culture. Among his permanent installations is ‘The Embrace’, memorializing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in Boston Commons.

On April 8, join us for a conversation between Hank Willis Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities and Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In the style of a fireside chat, this conversation will explore questions including: How does art shape and reflect narratives around race in the United States? How does power affect the way we express ourselves? And how might art contribute to a more just, equitable society?

This conversation is hosted by the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project (IARA) and the Institute of Politics at the JFK Jr. Forum — Harvard’s premier arena for political discussion.