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Exhibition Spotlight: Karima Amin on Hank Willis Thomas’s We The People

January 16, 2019

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976). We The People, 2015. Decommissioned prison uniforms mounted on Sintra, 74 x 90 inches (188 x 228.6 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Mrs. George A. Forman, by exchange, 2016 (2016:17). © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Image courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

As part of We the People: New Art from the Collection, the Albright-Knox asked members of the community for their thoughts on works in the exhibition. Karima Amin chose Hank Willis Thomas's We The People, which he made using deconstructed orange-and-white striped prison uniforms:

The words—"We the People"—really intrigued me because prisoners are people. Oftentimes in the general public people tend not to think of prisoners as people. They are the other. They are criminals. They are ostracized. They are marginalized. They are criminalized. We forget that these people come from families, these people come from communities. And when one person is incarcerated, the whole family is incarcerated. When multiple families have a member who is incarcerated, then you have a community that’s impacted by the imprisonment of people.

We The People comes from the preamble from the Constitution, and I remember having to memorize it in school: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Which made me think of all the rights that prisoners don’t have—and those they do have are oftentimes ignored or subverted. It’s interesting that this artist chose those words “We the People.” It’s a declaration. These are human beings. 

On Sunday, January 20, Karima Amin will present a Sunday Insights talk on selected works in We the People.