Identity, History, Popular Culture and Race: Works by Hank Willis Thomas

Active across sculpture, photography, mixed media, installation and video, New York-based Hank Willis Thomas (born 1976) is a conceptual artist and arts educator whose work deals with themes related to identity, history and popular culture, mostly advertising and commoditisation.

The construction and use of race is a major element of Hank’s art. He has observed: “I could be a black artist, but I’m also many other things. All of us inhabit multiple identities at once. The craziest thing about blackness is that black people didn’t create it. Europeans with a commercial interest in dehumanizing us created it. Five hundred years ago in Africa there weren’t black people. There were just people.”

Hank Willis Thomas

Hank’s sculptures feature historical struggles of black people – in America as well as other countries like South Africa and Mozambique – also, more recent pursuits like sports.

Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, Hank received an MFA in Photography and a MA in Visual Criticism from California College of the Arts (CCA) in 2004. He obtained a BFA in Photography and Africana Studies from New York University (NYU), Tisch School of the Arts in 1998. His favourite artist is Brooklyn-based Wangechi Mutu. He is also inspired by his mother Deborah Willis, who holds the chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch.

Hank is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City and Goodman Gallery in South Africa. His monograph, Pitch Blackness, was published by Aperture in 2008. He will have a show at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London in October. His work is in numerous public collections including The Museum of Modern Art New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. In 2015, Hank cofounded For Freedoms, the first artist run super Pac.

Links: Website ( | Facebook ( | Twitter (@hankwthomas) | Instagram (

Images used with permission.


Dompas Must Burn (Dompas – “dumb pass” – was a kind of passport used for segregation under the apartheid system in South Africa)


Wen der Fuhrer es Wusste (“Whom the Leader Knew”)


Raise Up


A luta continua (A luta continua – “The Struggle Continues” – was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence)


Lives of Others


History Doesn’t Laugh


What Goes Without Saying




A Place to Call Home