HANK WILLIS THOMAS | Raleigh, NC
What does it mean to let love break the rules we have in our lives? That is the question built into Artsuite’s inaugural project, LOVERULES — a new large-scale installation in Raleigh’s warehouse district created by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas. Unveiled in October 2020 and on display through July 2021, the neon sign’s six-foot tall letters blink a sequence of words — LOVE, OVER, RULES — a phrase Hank’s cousin and roommate Songha Willis spoke in a recorded message before he was fatally shot on February 2, 2000 outside of a club in Philadelphia. The trauma of losing Songha — who Thomas has described as his best friend, big brother and mentor — would play a major role in shaping the artist’s work over the next two decades. Through his photography, sculptures, installations, videos and collaborative public art projects the Brooklyn artist explores questions around black male identity, exploitation, appropriation, racism and social injustice.
But beyond simply inspiring Thomas’ art and fueling his drive to create, by using Songha’s own words, LOVERULES becomes a kind of posthumous collaboration with his cousin. Finding a public space for this deeply personal and poignant piece was paramount for Artsuite, especially at a moment in time when the message of the power of love is needed more than ever. In Thomas’ words, this kind of public art has the power to wake people up and remind them what matters. Grateful to Thomas and to the Jack Shainman Gallery for making this installation possible, the Artsuite team looks forward to bringing more collaborations and exhibitions to this site and to the community in the coming months. (You can read more about LOVERULES in this article by David Molesky for Juxtapoz Magazine here.)
“We are delighted to launch Artsuite with Love Over Rules, especially at this time. Art has a unique ability to both provoke and encourage. We believe the most effective way to support working artists is to showcase and share their art, and to encourage the world to engage with it.” — Artsuite co-founder Allen Thomas Jr.
Do you think art can create meaningful change in the world?
“Everyone who engages with art, whether they know it or not, is being changed and affected. The proof of that is that artists who were seen as radical 40 and 50 years ago for dealing with issues related to LGBTQ+ people or multiculturalism or women’s rights, those are mainstream issues now.” — Hank Willis Thomas
What do you hope people see in LOVERULES?
"When I received the opportunity to create a public art installation, I thought about [Songha] and how his last words could inspire people every day, reminding them to be generous. Love is a verb of action…not an action of receiving, but an action of giving.” — Hank Willis Thomas
How did Songha’s murder shape your art?
“I was really shocked, not only by the horror of the act, but also that the people who killed my cousin were young men, barely out of their teens, and now their lives were also over to an extent after they were caught. The history of our country has been tied to starving people into desperate circumstances where they partake in sometimes heinous acts as a means to feel relevant and important. So a lot of my work has been in the spirit of reuniting us, collectively, with people from whom society has tried to alienate us, even ourselves.” — Hank Willis Thomas