Beyond Beyoncé Fame, Awol Erizku Expands What Black Art Can Be

by AryanArtnews
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Los Angeles — Indeed, Awol Erizku could be best known for his amazing photographs of Beyonce during pregnancy. This was the most popular post in Instagram history in 2017. And Elizk took memorable images of many other celebrities, including the young inaugural poet Amanda Gorman on the cover of Time and Michael B. Jordan, GQ’s “Black Panther” actor.

However, in a recent interview in his vast studio in downtown Los Angeles, 33-year-old Elizk, with Dr. Martens on his feet and floppy on dreadlocks, as Emahui Tsege Mariam Gebrow played on a speaker. I’m wearing a hat. He himself was the first artist to be involved in painting, sculpture and video installation.

“That’s what I’m sticking to,” he said. “I’m not a photographer to hire.”

The desire to draw Elizk’s work to the wider art world is the desire of Gagosian director and curator Antoine Sargent to provide the gallery’s Park Avenue space for the show on March 10. Is part of.

“Awol is one of the Black Vanguard photographers who says that boundaries do not apply to the reality and conditions in which we create images,” Sargent said. “It’s a fresh perspective to have, especially when it comes to the very white history of photography.”

“How do we ignore it as a world of art?” Sargent continued. “I have photographers in Lagos, London, Johannesburg, New York, and Los Angeles, and I’m creating images that go against simple classifications and emphasize black desires, black beauty, and the black community. For me, that’s it. It is important.”

In Elizk’s “Memories of the Lost Sphinx,” six lightbox photographs are placed in a black-painted interior, along with mixed media sculptures that rethink the Great Sphinx of Giza as a fusion of Egyptian, Greek, and Asian influences. doing.There is also a golden spinning disco ball “Nefertiti-Miles Davis”, It is in the shape of the Queen of Egypt.

“I’m dismantling the mythical components that make up the Sphinx,” Erizku said. “It’s important for me to create a self-confident, powerful and truly imposing image of a black man.”

Sargent has known Erizku since interviewing him in Complex magazine about his exhibition “The Only Way Is Up” in 2014.

Born in Ethiopia and raised in South Bronx — Erizku describes himself “from the project” — he got into trouble in junior high school and said, “Art was the only way for me.” ..

A sketcher and scribble, he attended a high school in arts and design in Manhattan, began drawing medical illustrations, picked up a camera at Cooper Union, and earned a bachelor’s degree in art in 2010.

In his third year at Cooper Union, Elizk riffed Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and created a photo of a black woman on a large heart-shaped hoop earring, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Edition sold at the Phillips Auction House for $ 52,500 in 2017).

From there, he moved to Yale University, where he studied under photographer Gregory Claudson and earned MFA in 2014. Elizk was especially inspired by the works of artists such as Richard Prince, Jeff Wall, Roe Ethridge, Rrose Sélavy and David Hammons. Those who worked outside the margin, “he said.

But early on, he mastered the world of social media by treating Instagram as a gallery and selectively opening feeds for publication at designated times.

In 2012, he performed in a group show at the Flag Art Foundation, held two solo exhibitions at the currently closed Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in Chelsea, then attended Ben Brown in London and Hong Kong, followed by Night Gallery in Los Angeles. I participated in. He is not currently represented.

“This work has an aesthetic appeal, and you want to see it,” said Glenn Ferman, a collector who is the founder of Flag and a longtime supporter of Elizk’s work. .. “But more is always happening under the surface.”

Some members of the art world are already paying attention. In 2017, the Public Art Fund exhibited Erizku’s work on Wi-Fi kiosks in all five wards as part of the “Commercial Break” exhibition.

In 2019, curator Allison M. Glen included Elizk in the show “Small Talk” at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. Said. “He relies on recognizable signs and shifts them. That’s art history. That was the job of painting.”

Last year, the Public Art Fund featured 13 photos of Elizk at New York City and Chicago’s bus shelters at a show called “The New Vision of Iris.” The show included a still life working on mass containment and a portrait of Michael Brown Senior.

“He’s part of the conversation in art history, from the old masters to the contemporary image of the present moment,” said fund curator Daniel S. Palmer.

The Gagosian exhibition is meaningful, Sargent said. This is because he expanded the concept of what happens to black art when black portraits are all the rage in the market.

“The world of art has flattened the way Blackness operates,” Sargent said. “Exhibiting such an exhibition helps to expand beyond the over-emphasis of figurative paintings,” he said.

He added that it is a way to continue the conversation “beyond some of the fashionable concepts of the black-figure”.

Sargent pointed out the long-standing perceptions of black photographers such as Anthony Barboza, Ming Smith, and the Camoinge Group of the 1960s, which was recently featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Frankly, we didn’t care about the world of art, so we need to use every strategy to ensure that our images are seen and evaluated,” he said. Told.

Exhibiting Elizuk at Gagosian Space Park & ​​75 (a storefront visible from the street) makes the exhibition very accessible. “With more black artists on display than ever before, there is still the problem of museums and galleries attracting their audience to see the work of members of their community,” he said. “In the world of art, there are many barriers to entry.”

Elizk often incorporates wildlife into his images — he shot hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle on horseback and Michael B. Jordan on falcons and wolves. Gorman with a bird (currently screaming in a cage by the window of Elizk’s studio). He said he was inspired by Joseph Beuys’ radical performance in 1974. “I like America, America likes me.” The German artist spent a week in the dealer’s gallery surrounded by live coyotes.

The cost of Elizk’s work is low for major gallerists like Gagosian, and the work sells for around $ 40,000 to $ 60,000. However, Sargent said it is important for good galleries to introduce new perspectives. “To be honest, we want all voices to be expressed in the art world, and we need to be serious about providing a platform for artists who are thinking differently from the traditional notion of image creation. There is, “said Sargent.

Elizk, to some extent, bypasses the gatekeeper, given that he has been publishing his shows on social media for years. His main interest is to be able to convey and enhance the image of blacks, such as actress Viola Davis, African masks, nail salon hands, Ethiopian sex workers, and basketball player Kevin Durant.

“I want to remember for the black imagination, to push the boundaries of black art,” Erizku said.


Awol Erizku: Memories of the Lost Sphinx

From March 10th to April 16th, Manhattan’s Park Avenue 821, Gagosian Park & ​​75. 212-796-1228; gagosian.com.

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