Shortly before Virgil Abloh’s untimely passing in November, the designer was conceptualizing a collaboration with Camella Ehlke, the founder of the pioneering ‘90s streetwear label Triple 5 Soul. After Abloh praised Ehlke for her work, the duo began ideating a collaboration centered on one-of-a-kind upcycled outfits for furniture like Eames Lounge Chairs. Ehlke sewed the outfits together and Abloh provided surplus sample yardage sourced from Off-White’s Milan-based fabric house.
Unfortunately, it became one of many uncompleted projects Abloh tragically left unfinished. But it saw the light of day thanks to Guilty By Association (GBA), a new creative platform that seeks to empower artists.
“Camella had shown Virgil the final mock ups of these outfits, then he passed away. But I think she just felt in her heart that she needed to continue,” says GBA co-founder Derek Wiggins. “It was about being the support behind her saying: ‘Let’s put a timeframe behind this. Let’s work with other partners. Let’s get approval from Off-White to make sure this is cool. Let’s do something very special and finish this in her way.’”
GBA is not looking to become another blue-chip art gallery. The digital platform was launched by Wiggins and Karen Wong (who previously worked at the New Museum for 15 years) last year to address their own frustrations with the contemporary art world. Particularly, GBA is focused on addressing the lack of inclusivity in the art world and the challenges artists face when trying to make liveable salaries off their work. Aside from working with Ehlke, they’ve also collaborated with designer Phillip Lim to highlight Asian American Pacific Islander artists such as Eri Wakiyama and Sue Kwon. This summer, they collaborated with Charles DuVernay of the Monogram Hunters, to highlight the culture of Black Masking Indians in New Orleans.
As an entrepreneurial creative with a passion for street culture, Wiggins has been helping niche artists build sustainable income streams since the 2000s. Before launching GBA and building a career in digital advertising, he helped underground artists like Claw Money, Bradley Theodore, and Gabe Urist run independent businesses and live off their artwork.
“I saw what a lot of artists dealt with as they moved from art forms like graffiti to fine art and how they were treated because of the types of objects they created, the color of their skin, and who they did or didn’t know,” says Wiggins. “GBA is about empowering marginalized artists, people who aren’t accepted by the galleries, and giving them fair commission. It’s about creating a system where they’re marketed and talked to appropriately.”
We spoke to Wiggins about how GBA aspires to change the outdated structures of the contemporary art world, how he helped artists like Gabe Urist grow their own personal brands in the 2000s, and the work GBA has done so far.