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Maybe They Can Handle the Truth: Hank Willis Thomas Will Take His Public Art Installation on a 50-State Tour

People recording messages in the Truth Booth.

People recording messages in the Truth Booth.

Hank Willis Thomas’s Truth Booth has been installed in diverse locations, from Collins Park in Miami to Bamyan, Afghanistan, as well as numerous places in between. (Most recently, the piece was on view at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn.) The work is an inflatable recording booth in the shape of a comic-book word bubble, with the word TRUTH written on the exterior. Inside, visitors record a two-minute message in response to the prompt, “The truth is…” This has resulted in a number of very candid replies from the public. “The truth is I don’t think I have enough money to finish college,” said a student from Hofstra University in 2012. One participant in Brooklyn said that she wanted to get back together with her estranged husband. The truth for an eleven-year-old in Miami was that unicorns are real.

Now, in honor of the election season, Thomas is hoping to take the Truth Booth across the country, to all 50 states, in order to create a dialogue during what Thomas described in a phone interview as “a difficult moment in human history.”

“In political seasons, truth is a very contested domain,” he said. “And I believe that there are multiple truths existing at all times. So how do we start to find space for acknowledging that there could be different perspectives on the same issue?”

On Tuesday, Thomas—along with his collaborators from the Cause Collective, Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester—is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the Truth Booth’s U.S. tour. The goal is to raise $75,000. Since Thomas is a successful visual artist, many of the proposed locations so far are cultural institutions, but the plan is to expand to some more unexpected terrain. (Museums, Thomas said, are “not the entirety of the United States, obviously.”)

Thomas is having quite an active election cycle so far. Earlier this year, he formed a political action committee called For Freedoms with artist Eric Gottesman. The funds raised by the PAC, which will be headquartered at Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea (Thomas’s New York dealer), will go toward commissioning political ads by artists.

“I think the stakes of elections in the 21st century are high,” Thomas said, citing the 2000 presidential election and the Supreme Court case that resulted from its contested vote as a breaking point in American politics. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to get back on track,” Thomas continued, “and people have very different ideas about that. Some people would say that it’s never been on track.”

Presidential campaigns are always circus-like, but the one in 2016 has really outdone itself in terms of contentiousness. Thomas hopes his work will serve as a kind of portable neutral ground.

“What we primarily want is to invite the public to use their voices, because if we don’t speak for ourselves, other people are gonna speak for us, and we have no idea what they’re going to say,” he said. “If the truth belongs to all of us, then we have to recognize that we have something in common.”

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