Hank Willis

City Talks: New York

Hank Willis Thomas

PLUS: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Hank Willis Thomas: I cuddle with my daughter first thing and then meditate.


P: Where is your go-to place to eat (in NY) and why?

HWT: There are so many great places to eat in New York that it’s hard to choose one. The most important thing to me is a meal surrounded by friends and family—it doesn’t really matter where.


P: What attracts you to New York?

HWT: New York is home and is rich with creative individuals. I’m inspired everywhere I look.


P: What inspires you to do what you do every day?

HWT: I’m motivated to fight inequality. The common denominator in my work is about framing and context. Whoever holds the frame gets to control the context, and I take that responsibility very seriously.


P: You have worked in a variety of artistic mediums over the years, but you began your artistic career working in photography. What makes photography stick out to you?

HWT: Both of my parents are artists, and I grew up with the visual language of photography. It allows me to shift the viewer’s perspective and create new images, alternatives to those we are consuming on a daily basis, often without thinking much about it. I use photography to critique the images all around us because it has the unique ability to cut straight to the truth.


P: What do you see as the relationship between art and politics?

HWT: Art has always been political—the question of who is represented and who gets to make art is political at its core. It’s my goal as an artist to shed light on the inequality and power dynamics that structure our society. By its very nature, that is a political act.


P: How do you think the role of the artist has changed throughout your lifetime?

HWT: The greatest role of an artist is to highlight the things we would rather ignore. There’s greater reception now for my work than there was when I started, and there is more inclusion for who is recognized as an artist within the art world.


P: How do you think art creates change?

HWT: Art has the power to draw attention to inequality. Inequality thrives when we are blind to the truth in front of us. Art can redirect our gaze, and make us confront what is right there, staring us in the face.


P: What would you like to see a change in the art industry at large?

HWT: The art industry is still an exclusive space where only a handful of artists are elevated and only a small portion of people feel comfortable. We need real structural change to create accessibility, approachability, and equity, so everyone can be included. Art must be for all people, not just the wealthy, white, and powerful.


P: Three things you are thankful for.

HWT: I’m thankful for my family, my health, and my ability to create art every day.

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