‘Her Love Was True’: Tributes to bell hooks (1952–2021)

Rhea Dillon, Harmony Holiday, Legacy Russell, Bolanle Tajudeen and McKenzie Wark honour the influential US author and thinker

BY Rhea Dillon, Harmony Holiday, Legacy Russell, Bolanle Tajudeen AND McKenzie Wark in Opinion | 22 DEC 21

The US author, professor, feminist and social activist bell hooks died on 15 December aged 69. hooks was an influential figure, whose writing and thinking penetrated many fields, including post-colonial, feminist, queer and artistic discourses. frieze invited five artists, writers and activists to reflect on her legacy.

Harmony Holiday 

‘Love is very peaceful’, Stevie Wonder slide-sings at the crescendo of his song ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today’ (1976). His tone is soft, but the phrase’s effect is to strike like judgment and inspire a reflexive assessment of anything in your life that is or is not love based on this criteria. bell hooks embodied this perfect, cheerful, lamenting, haunting song. Where some claim that struggle is a sign of courage, she says: no, love is, and love is very peaceful. Even disagreements born of love are mended with relative peace because critique from someone who loves you is not malicious but constructive and honest when the love is true. And her love was true. I will hold onto her call that we restore love to the centre of our lives like a mantra and practice it like a duty in her honour. 

bell hooks
bell hooks, Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery, 1993. Courtesy: South End Press Classics 

Legacy Russell

bell hooks taught us that Black queerness is bound up with lessons to listen to: a composition, a score, a pathway, a survival strategy, a future imaginary. hooks showed us that an erotic self is self-emancipated and that feeling is a radical act and a somatic pathway to collective liberation. hooks told us that we should take up space and make noise and stretch and ache and love ourselves and one another deeply and fully as this reminds us that we deserve to be alive. She said that we can keep on living, that we carry all those who came before us, that our adoration is an entitlement – an awesome right to take up, claim and put to good use making good trouble.

Rhea Dillon 

how do you find language to celebrate the life of those who brought that breath to you? whose own language is what brings fire to your ability to do the fundamental thing we’re here together on earth for:

to love and to learn.

hooks’s love is the love I live by.

defined in her six words in communion (2002) as ‘care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust’. if you know me, I am speaking about any one of them at any given time just as a means of navigating my day, let alone an art practice.

I love loving with a bell hooks love.

I love repeatedly becoming and being a bell hooks feminist.

I love speaking in a bell hooks unapologetic black woman didactic about so much that y’all want to clout and run for.

I receive the news of her death on the streets of accra with one of my best friends, kandis; and, wow, how we’ve cried. wow how tired are we. but wow how much love do we hold for her world.

there’s so much to be said and inspired by: her critique, her care, her books with others like stuart hall, her most accurate words on black masculinity, her even more potent words on white feminism … the range! a special thank you to kate wong for our discussions on hooks’s wisdom and for curating me in a group show this year that looked directly at an essay hooks published in 1990, titled ‘homeplace: a site of resistance’.

go read hooks if you want to live in love.

may she rest in peace.

McKenzie Wark 

I often put her on university reading lists. Her texts have the most delightful way of catching everyone’s implications in white-supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal capitalism. But they can be more than that. They can be a lifeline for those who feel the pressure of all that where it is at its hardest and most dense. Not just to get you through a college course but through the course of your life. There was space for trans people, too – even if she hadn’t quite thought through what the critique of cis-normativity might add to her meditations for healing all our wounded lives.

bell hooks
bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, 1999. Courtesy: HarperCollins

Bolanle Tajudeen

I am utterly devastated about the passing of bell hooks, a fierce Black feminist who encouraged those seeking liberation to do so with urgency and love. I first read Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery (1993) when I was awakening to the multiple oppressions that I faced in daily life. Her words encouraged me that looking after myself was an act of resistance against a society that would rather Black women fade away and die and not talk about the systems of oppressions killing us spiritually and emotionally. She gave a voice to my pain and a broader understanding of ways to fight back – which was firstly through self-love. When I came across Art on My Mind (1995), I was so happy that a voice I admired on race and feminism took the time to critically analyse artists, art networks and discuss how art shaped her life. It gave the work that I do in the art world a sense of meaning and relevance in the context of liberation for Black people.

Main image: bell hooks, 1996. Courtesy: Getty Image; photograph: Karjean Levine

Rhea Dillon is an artist, writer and poet based in London.

Harmony Holiday is a poet and performer. Her books include Reparations (2020) and A Jazz Funeral for Uncle Tom (2020). Her latest book Maafa will be released later this year.

Legacy Russell is a writer and curator. She is executive director and chief curator at The Kitchen, New York, USA. She received the Thoma Foundation Arts Writing Award in Digital Art in 2019 and was a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow. Her first book, GLITCH FEMINISM: A Manifesto, was released in 2020. Her second book, BLACK MEME: A History of the Images that Make Us, was also released by Verso Books in May 2024. She lives in New York.


Bolanle Tajudeen (she/her) is the founder of Black Blossoms – an expanded curatorial platform showcasing contemporary Black women and non-binary artists since 2015. In 2020 Bolanle launched the Black Blossoms School of Art and Culture, an online learning platform decolonizing art education.

McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard, 2004), Gamer Theory (Harvard, 2007), Molecular Red (Verso, 2015) and various other things. Her newest book Raving is set to be published March 14 2023. Wark teaches at The New School in New York, USA.