New York-based, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas is deeply invested in the idea of representation and, particularly, self-representation. His work urges us to see beyond socially constructed categories of identity, and reminds us that binaries such as black and white or male and female don’t have to define us or the way we relate to one another.
Several of his artistic series have explored the influence power structures (such as advertising agencies and governing bodies) exert over our understanding of the world, and in his work he has used the language of visual culture to speak back to the corporate commodification of various identities.
These questions about identity come to the fore in his latest show, “The Beautiful Game,” which will be his first solo exhibition in the UK. Opening to the public October 5, to coincide with the beginning of London’s Frieze Art Fair week, Thomas will showcase new sculptures and intricate mixed media quilts at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London.
As hinted in the title of the show, “The Beautiful Game” interrogates the sports world on a few recurring motifs of Thomas’s practice: sports’ symbiotic relationship with globalization and nationalism, and the historic and contemporary commodification of a homogeneous black male identity.
Inspired by various quilting traditions in the US and English militaries, as well as the African-American South, Thomas has fashioned his own quilts out of soccer jerseys (and not the cheap ones, either!) to reproduce works of art by Matisse and Picasso, as well as Asafo military company flags made by the Fante people in Ghana. He will also debut new sculptures, some of which gesture towards Brâncuși.
Recently, we spoke to artist about his new work, his interest in sports, and the catastrophic events that happened in Charlottesville this summer. Read more