The all-seeing eye has been a part of American iconography for centuries. It can be found in hand almost daily, looking up at us from the US dollar bill. Ametropia by Hank Willis Thomas x Wide Awakes is a contemporary re-interpretation of the eye in the spirit of today’s Wide Awakes - a boundless collective. It is an elegy of our collective conscious from our collaborative spirit. The original Wide Awakes engaged ways to re-shift reality through art– they would take old songs and write new lyrics to them, for instance, in a kind of remixing play. The modern day (though time is a construct) Wide Awakes are using these same tools to change the status quo.
The Ametropia eye references this experience of waking up to a new awareness and desire for change. Thomas x Wide Awakes push this familiar emblem into a psychedelic space expressing movement. The vocabulary of psychedelia—with its roots in the 1960s counterculture— represents the desire for change.
The work includes optical art component - using this static image and forcing one’s mind to see movement and thus question what we know to be true. This symbolically reshapes our outlook, our lens on the world. It purposefully disorients to force us to shift our perspective in order to maintain balance.
Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is an American conceptual artist who focuses primarily on themes of perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His body of work encompasses video, public art and collaborative installations, sculpture, and photography that inspires reflection on how art informs racial equity and civil rights. Thomas incorporates widely identifiable iconography in his images to create commentaries on racial inequality, violence, bias, and the portrayal of Black bodies perpetuated through advertising.
Thomas cofounded For Freedoms—the first artist-led super PAC—with Eric Gottesman, Michelle Woo, and Wyatt Gallery in 2016. Three years later, he collaborated with artists to revive the Wide Awakes—the Abraham Lincoln–era activist coalition that rallied support for abolition—as a decentralized civic engagement and creative network that radically imagines the future through artistic collaboration.
Thomas’s first major retrospective debuted in 2019 at the Portland Art Museum, Oregon, and followed in 2020 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad at institutions including the Hong Kong Arts Centre (2018); the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2017); the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2015); the International Center of Photography, New York (2013); the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam. Thomas’s work is included in numerous public collections such as those of the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Thomas is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), and a Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a former member of the New York City Public Design Commission. He is based in Brooklyn.