History Is Waiting to Be Told


‘History Is Waiting to Be Told’: Hank Willis Thomas on How Artists Can Reshape the Narrative of the United States in Real Time

The artist explains why his super PAC, For Freedoms, is also an artistic project.


Andrew Goldstein for Artnet 

Hank Willis Thomas is a name many in the art world are familiar with, and not just because he is the son of lauded historian Deborah Willis (though that helps). Soon, a lot more people could become familiar with him and what he stands for.

The multimedia artist, who tackles some of the most difficult and complex issues of our time—systemic racism, marginalized communities, media bias, and income inequality, among others—is also the cofounder of For Freedoms, a super PAC turned nonprofit organization promoting civic engagement in the creative community.

Thomas once said that his personal experiences prompted him to create art that could “change the world in a more intentional way.” Now, more than ever, he is doing just that.

Through July 16, he and his Los Angeles gallery, Kayne Griffin Corcoran, are teaming up with Artnet Auctions to present “Bid for Peace,” a single-lot sale of Thomas’s striking sculpture, Peace, from 2019.

All proceeds from the auction, including the buyer’s premium, will be donated to Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S), a non-profit organization that protects the rights of transgender sex workers.

Thomas took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the evolution of his studio practice, artists’ importance in bringing about civic transformation, and whether you might someday see his name on a ballot near you.

You can listen to a condensed version of this interview on Artnet News’s Art Angle podcast.

Before we get into what you’re up to now, let’s go back to where you come from. Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how you became an artist.

Well, I think we’re all artists. I was born an artist and have over the past couple of decades really been in a process of discovering more and more what that can mean, every day.

And I do have the fortune of being the son of Deborah Willis, who’s an incredible person, as well as an art historian and photographer and photo historian. And I grew up at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture, where she worked, watching her discover and tell new narratives about American history, along with her colleagues and fellow artists and peers.