Chloe Edwards, Contributing Photographer

When given the cloak of anonymity, many are able to summon the courage it takes to speak their truth.

A new interactive exhibition titled ‘the truth is i am you,’ explores humanity’s perception of truth. The exhibition was created by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Ryan Alexiev and organized by Director of Programs and Exhibitions at NXTHVN, Kalia Brooks. The exhibit went on display at NXTHVN on Sept. 24. 

NXTHVN is an artistic space in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood that fosters creativity by hosting exhibitions and sponsoring a student arts fellowship program. 

“[The exhibition] speaks to the universality of truth. ‘The truth’ is subjective. Everyone has their own truth,” said Arielle Gray, ART ’23.

Universality is an overarching theme in Thomas’ art. ‘the truth is i am you,’ like many of his works, requires interaction between the viewer and the art. 

The viewer’s experience begins with a bright red, thought-bubble shaped bench outside the gallery. The bench beckons gallery-goers to sit and reflect on the meaning of truth. 

Inside the building, there are two rooms: a screening room and the gallery room. 

A video titled “The Truth Booth” plays on loop in the screening room and displays how various people respond to the prompt: “the truth is…”. The video compilation was created by Thomas and Alexiev, in collaboration with other artists as a part of a project for “The Cause Collective.”

In the Truth Booth, people of all ages, from all over the world, give their own interpretation of “the truth,” and yet there are several common threads: love, struggle, equality and growth. 

“This is the truth,” one man exclaims as he holds his baby up to the camera. “The truth, not corrupted.”

On the verge of tears, another man states, “The truth is my life is not at all what I thought it would be.”

“The Truth Booth” pushes individuals to realize that they share more similarities than differences. Words uttered by strangers in seclusion have the ability to resonate with an array of viewers. It is this vulnerability that exposes the core of humanity: shared doubts, flaws and longings.

“We are always looking for new ways to engage openly with our neighbors and broader community, and what better way to do so than through an exhibition that invites us to consider our underlying assumptions around “truth” as a concept,” said Kalia Brooks, director of programs and exhibitions at NXTHVN. 

Alongside the video, the exhibition itself is a quaint room with dozens of helium balloons. On the walls are several iterations of the prompt: “the truth is i feel you,” “the truth is i hear you, “the truth is i respect you,” “the truth is i remember you” and so on. 

When deciding on the format of the exhibition, Thomas says that he chose to put the viewer at the center.

“[The exhibition] is nothing without the participants.” Thomas said during the Artist Conversation led by NXTHVN Programs Manager Victoria McCraven. 

The ability for visitors to interact with the exhibit makes it evident that connecting people through art is what motivates Thomas’ creations. 

However, the impetus for Thomas’ own search for the truth was a lack of connection to others and, as he said, a desire “… to be seen as a human being.” As a Black man in America, Thomas said he struggles against “the distorted reality of what it means to be a black male in society.” His art, then, serves as a medium to amplify his perspective and his truth. 

Gray described the exhibition as “a freeing experience.”

At the end of the interview Thomas shared that his upcoming installation in Boston, a monument titled “The Embrace,” will be finished in 2023. “The Embrace” captures the moment when Martin Luther King Jr. holds his wife after receiving the Nobel Prize.

Thomas revealed in the interview that his inspiration for memorializing this particular moment is that “[there are very few] monuments [dedicated to] love, but many for war.”

“The Embrace” epitomizes the message that is so often felt in Thomas’ work: that we depend on each other — that we need each other — that “life is a collaboration … [and] we are making this moment together.”

Thomas and Alexiev’s, ‘the truth is i am you,’ display will be open to the public until Nov. 20.

Chloe Edwards is a Photography Editor, as well as a Beat Reporter covering Arts in New Haven at the University. Originally from North Carolina, she is currently a sophomore in Branford College majoring in English.