Hank Willis Thomas
I am the Greatest
Like many of his other sculptural works, the source of I am the Greatest is actually a historical photograph of an identical button pin from the 1960s. I am the Greatest presents the famous quote by Mohammad Ali to think about his important presence in the African American community. In dialogue with the painting I am a Man, also in the Kadist collection, this assertion that begins the same way takes the line from the protest poster several steps further. Ali never asserted that he was the greatest boxer or athlete, but had the audacity to claim that he was THE GREATEST [human being] of all time. For a man who grew up in the segregated south to rise to Ali’s iconic status and to be able to confidently and proudly vocalize his superiority was one of the most powerful, symbolic, and memorable moments in the Civil Rights struggle. Monumentally inflating the scale of the button embodies the ‘larger than life’ presence of Ali as an icon for African Americans to stand up and not only assert their humanity, but to be confident in their ability to succeed and rise up against all obstacles society placed in front of them.