What Is Love?
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine|March 2021
The artist Hank Willis Thomas discusses his partnership with the Japanese fashion label Sacai and the idea of fashion in the context of the art world.
Eugene Lim

Conceptual Artist Hank Willis Thomas once told his mother Deborah Willis, a formidable photographer, art and photo historian, as well as a winner of the MacArthur Fellowship, that he would never want to be an artist because all her friends were broke.

Those plans changed when his cousin, best friend, as well as mentor, Songha Willis, was tragically shot and killed in 2000, outside a nightclub in Philadelphia.

That moment marked a pivotal point in Willis Thomas’ life, as he decided Songha’s death needed to stand for something more than just another statistic of gun violence. He embarked on a career as a conceptual artist, examining issues related to Black history, perspective and identity vis-a-vis its portrayal in mainstream media, and used his work as a medium to inform racial equity and civil rights.

In tribute to his cousin, Willis Thomas turned Songha’s last recorded message to him, “Love Over Rules” into a public art sculpture, which is on permanent display in San Francisco.

T Singapore spoke to Willis Thomas over email about his artwork and how it became the focal point of his collaboration with Sacai.

EUGENE LIM: Could you tell us more about the inception of your art piece, “Love Over Rules”?

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