It seems like there’s no shortage of opinions, information, and directives flowing every single day. In spite of this, why does it seem like the truth–the thoughts, emotions, and ideas people really believe– only come alive in spaces of solitude?
One reason might be that people are afraid to voice their real opinions because disagreement could spark hostile debates and adverse outcomes. However, visual artist Hank Willis Thomas believes there’s another factor involved.
“I think a lot of people have a lot of things to say but they’re not often asked,” the Brooklyn-based conceptual artist tells EBONY.com.
As a response to this, Thomas along with collaborators, The Cause Collective, created the Truth Booth, a portable 14-foot high speech bubble that encourages individuals to share their truths sans judgment.
By posing the question, “The Truth is…,” participants have two-minutes to be as open and real about their beliefs, hopes, and observations about absolutely anything while being recorded.
Some smile and run away when they see the large object. Others allow their curiosity to take lead and guide them to a space of truth–uninhibited, unaltered, and untested.
The project launched in 2011 during an arts festival in Ireland. It has since traveled to South Africa, Chicago, San Francisco, Afghanistan, Ireland, Cleveland, Miami, and NYC.
Now, the goal is to heighten the honest discussion surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Thomas hopes to to install the cartoonish balloon accented with the word “TRUTH,” across all 50 states this May, with the intention to explore how politics shape notions of people and identity.
“What we want to do is create a space where the public has to listen to what people all over the country have to say and deal with the issues.”
To help bring his vision to fruition, Thomas set up a Kickstarter campaign with a goal to raise $75,000, which will allow the artist to transport the sculpture throughout the country.
At the end, Thomas wants to compile the video footage and edit these truths into a video installation to be exhibited in galleries, museums and public viewings.
EBONY.com caught up with Thomas to discuss the unique documentary art project along with shared truths and ideals when it comes to race and gender in today’s society.
EBONY.com: When launching this project in 2011, what was the initial purpose and how long did it take for people to jump on board?
Hank Willis Thomas: Thanks for asking. The real idea behind the project is that it provides an opportunity for people to share their unique perspectives without anyone else trying to tell them that it’s not true and it’s not valuable. We live in a moment where I think truth is so contentious, and we really want to get people to actually think about the truth in a much broader and open-minded way and realize that everyone may have a different version of the truth, but it’s all valid. Rather than this idea of where we have these clashes about left wing – right wing religious issues. We’re trying to figure out a space to make each person view themselves as valuable and worthy to be listened to. So, it’s exciting to see young people, old people, people from different nationalities speak in very clear terms about things that they feel passionate about. As artists and as a public, being willing and able to listen is really impactful.
EBONY.com: What sparked the idea to align the portable soapbox with the 2016 presidential election?
Thomas: Every election season we learn and realize how contentious this idea of the truth is. There’s so much being said to the public and about the public but we don’t hear enough from the public. This platform is a unique opportunity to do that. After Occupy [Wall Street] and Black Lives Matter, we realized that there is a large sentiment that those in power offices don’t appear to be listening to. I think our real hope is that we will actually, through our actions, spark their interest and get their ear.
EBONY.com: What do you hope the Truth Booth reveals about the current presidential election?
Thomas: I hope that shouting people down, allowing people to speak from their perspectives, and hearing them out will encourage others to be more open to people and willing to listen to people they disagree with or don’t understand. I hope to create a democracy of ideas, perspectives, and opinions. We travel and collect these diverse and powerful perspectives, but also it’s a call-to-action that we must raise our voice.
EBONY.com: Your creative works deal with subjects of race, gender and social status. I can imagine these topics also come up in the Truth Booth. What are some of the viewpoints from participants and what are you learning in the process as it relates to these themes?
Thomas: It’ll become clear as we get on the road. Cleveland and Chicago are two places where we know there have been instances of police violence. There was definitely a sense of urgency for Black lives to be received as valuable and given opportunity for equality. Sometimes there was frustration and other times a sense of pride and solidarity showing people’s ability to overcome institutional and societal forces of oppression. It’s not like every Black person comes in and speaks about Black life issues either but I think the fact that you have a range of people going into this thing and sharing a broad range of emotion and perspectives, although they might be diverse, I think it’s a unifying effort that suggest we all believe that we need to be heard and share perspectives and not be passive in accepting the way in which we’re treated.
EBONY.com: It’s quite interesting how people feel free enough to express their truths to a camera, which can eventually reach millions – but there’s a struggle in everyday society to present genuine honesty. Why do you think that is, and what has been the most shocking as you review footage?
Thomas: I think people have a lot to say but they’re not often asked what it is. What’s been most shocking is how open people have been. These are strangers who don’t know what’s going to be on the other side of the booth or on the other side of what they record. I think it’s beautiful because they’re willing to expose and express themselves in a space that’s rarely given. For me, that’s been highly touching and empowering. It’s exciting.