The artist Hank Willis Thomas is a voracious reader, not only of books, but of the world around us—and particularly, of images. Through his practice, Thomas interrogates and investigates, probes and prods, and ultimately helps make sense of various strands of visual culture—advertising, photographs, videos, clothing and ephemera, monuments—to tell necessary stories and shape new forms of meaning and memory. While Thomas’s roots are in the medium of photography, his work also extends far into other realms, including sculpture and memorialization. A prime example of this and a collaboration with MASS Design Group is “The Embrace,” a memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, that will be unveiled in the Boston Common in January 2023. Another is the Gun Violence Memorial Project, organized with the prevention organizations Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety, and also with MASS.
Central to Thomas’s art are the subjects of truth and reality (best illustrated by his traveling “Truth Booth” installation, which toured all 50 states in the lead up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election), how they’re shaped, and by whom. Many of Thomas’s more conceptual projects also tend to be collective. Most notable among these is For Freedoms, an artist-run coalition he co-founded in 2016 as a super PAC that serves as a platform for artists of all kinds to meaningfully contribute to public discourse and help raise political awareness in the United States.
On this episode of Time Sensitive, Thomas speaks with Spencer about identity as a figment of our imaginations, race as the “most successful advertising campaign” ever, and quilt-stitching as a metaphor for all that he does.
Special thanks to our Season 6 sponsor, L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts.
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