From Harriet Tubman to Black Panther

An artist speaks on heroism in the Black community.

Madiha Hussaini April 10, 2018

Raymond A. Thomas’ “1000 More” depicts Black female heroes, real and fictional.

Ray­mond A. Thomas has been work­ing on the art soon to be fea­tured in Hero•ism, an exhib­it at Gallery Guichard on Chicago’s South Side, for almost two years. His tim­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter, as the new film Black Pan­ther has put Black hero­ism in the spot­light to a degree rarely seen. In These Times spoke to Thomas, for­mer art direc­tor at Ebony and for­mer inter­im art direc­tor at In These Times.

My piece works well with the whole idea of the film and the subtext of African Americans, Africa and armed revolution.

What does hero” mean to you?

For me, a hero is some­one devot­ed to truth, courage and con­vic­tion, and some­one who has a pro­found love for the peo­ple. I tried to speak on hero­ic­ness as a sense of com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple who strive to bet­ter our situation.

How does gen­der play into your art?

I was raised by strong, pow­er­ful Black women and so the piece, 1000 More,” is a cel­e­bra­tion of women. They were pow­er­ful lib­er­a­tors as well. Who was more pow­er­ful than Har­ri­et Tub­man, Storm, Pam Gri­er or Angela Davis?

What do you hope view­ers take away from your art?

It’s about cel­e­brat­ing the tri­umphs and tears of the African-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence while also expos­ing the symp­toms and sit­u­a­tions that have per­pet­u­at­ed and con­tin­ue to per­pet­u­ate evil and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. I’m always hop­ing that my art is some­thing that peo­ple can use to revi­su­al­ize them­selves. It’s about cre­at­ing some­thing that’s against the onslaught of lies and that reaf­firms the human­i­ty of my people.

It’s like in Black Pan­ther. A young child, or any­one, can be inspired by that.

My piece works well with the whole idea of the film and the sub­text of African Amer­i­cans, Africa and armed rev­o­lu­tion. I applaud Mar­vel for giv­ing the film­mak­er the lat­i­tude for his craft — the intri­ca­cies of cul­ture, all those nuances and hav­ing women in these pow­er­ful roles. I was amazed that I was watch­ing a Dis­ney film

Madi­ha Hus­sai­ni is a win­ter 2018 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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