May 27, 2022
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LOS ANGELES — True, Awol Erizku could also be greatest identified for his beatific {photograph} of a pregnant ​​Beyoncé, which in 2017 was the most liked submit in Instagram’s historical past. And Erizku has taken many different memorable photographs of celebrities, together with the younger inauguration poet Amanda Gorman for the quilt of Time and the “Black Panther” actor Michael B. Jordan for GQ.

However in a current interview at his sprawling studio in Downtown Los Angeles, Erizku, 33 — carrying Dr. Martens on his ft and a floppy hat over his dreadlocks, because the Ethiopian pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou performed on the audio system — mentioned he considers himself first an artist, one who additionally works in portray, sculpture and video set up.

“It’s one thing that I’m adamant about,” he mentioned. “I’m not a photographer for rent.”

The need to deliver Erizku’s work to the eye of the broader artwork world is a part of what fueled the will of Antwaun Sargent, a director and curator on the Gagosian, to present him the gallery’s Park Avenue area for a present opening March 10.

“Awol is likely one of the photographers within the Black vanguard who’re saying boundaries don’t apply to the realities or the situations by which we’re making photographs,” Sargent mentioned. “That could be a refreshing perspective to have, significantly in relation to the extraordinarily white historical past of images.”

“How are we, as an artwork world, going to disregard that?” Sargent continued. “You could have photographers in Lagos, London, Johannesburg, New York and Los Angeles making photographs that defy simple categorization and which can be emphasizing Black want, Black magnificence and Black neighborhood. For me, that’s vital.”

Erizku’s exhibition, “Memories of a Lost Sphinx,” situates six light-box pictures in a black-painted inside together with a mixed-media sculpture that reimagines the Great Sphinx of Giza as an amalgam of Egyptian, Greek and Asian influences. There may be additionally a golden spinning disco ball, “Nefertiti — Miles Davis, within the form of the Egyptian queen.

“I’m deconstructing the mythological parts that make up the Sphinx,” Erizku mentioned. “It’s vital for me to create assured, highly effective, downright regal photographs of Black individuals.”

Sargent has identified Erizku since interviewing him for Complex journal about his exhibition “The Solely Manner Is Up” in 2014. Erizku mentioned he skilled a right away consolation with him, feeling “for the primary time I didn’t have to elucidate the work.”

Born in Ethiopia and raised within the South Bronx — Erizku describes himself as “from the initiatives” — he received into hassle in junior highschool and mentioned, “artwork was the one method out for me.”

A sketcher and doodler, he went to the Excessive Faculty of Art and Design in Manhattan, began out doing medical illustrations and picked up a digital camera at Cooper Union, the place in 2010 he acquired his bachelor’s diploma in high-quality arts.

In his third yr at Cooper Union, Erizku riffed on Vermeer’s “Lady With a Pearl Earring,” creating the {photograph} “Lady With a Bamboo Earring,” that includes a Black lady in a big heart-shaped hoop earring, which attracted public consideration (an version bought at Phillips public sale home in 2017 for $52,500).

From there it was on to Yale, the place he studied with the photographer Gregory Crewdson and earned his MFA in 2014. Erizku was significantly impressed by the work of artists like Richard Prince, Jeff Wall, Roe Ethridge, Marcel Duchamp and David Hammons — “those who labored outdoors the margins,” he mentioned.

However early on he mastered the world of social media by treating Instagram as his gallery, selectively opening his feed for public viewing at appointed hours.

In 2012, he was featured in a gaggle present on the Flag Art Basis after which had two solo reveals on the now closed Hasted Kraeutler gallery in Chelsea earlier than becoming a member of Ben Brown in London and Hong Kong adopted by the Night Gallery in Los Angeles. He’s presently not represented.

“The work has an aesthetic attraction — you wish to have a look at it,” mentioned the collector Glenn Fuhrman, a founding father of Flag and longtime supporter of Erizku’s work. “However there’s at all times much more happening beneath the floor.”

Some members of the art world have already taken notice. Public Art Fund, in 2017, confirmed Erizku’s work on Wi-Fi kiosks in all 5 boroughs as a part of the exhibition “Business Break.”

In 2019, the curator Allison M. Glenn included Erizku in her present “Small Talk” at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark. “The ability of his observe is that it has an accessibility at a number of factors for many completely different individuals,” Glenn mentioned. “He depends upon and shifts recognizable symbols. That’s artwork historical past. That’s been the work of portray.”

Final yr, Public Art Fund featured 13 of Erizku’s pictures on bus shelters throughout New York Metropolis and Chicago in a present known as “New Visions for Iris” that included a still-life addressing mass-incarceration and a portrait of Michael Brown Sr.

“He’s a part of an artwork historic dialog,” mentioned Daniel S. Palmer, the fund’s curator, “from outdated masters to the up to date imagery of our present second.”

The Gagosian exhibition is significant, Sargent mentioned, partially as a result of it expands the notion of what Black artwork might be at a time when Black portraiture has turn into the market rage.

“The artwork world has flattened the methods by which Blackness operates,” Sargent mentioned. “Doing exhibitions like this one helps to develop past an overemphasis on figurative portray,” although he famous that figurative work is legitimate.

He added that it was a technique to proceed a dialog “past among the modern notions of the Black determine.”

Sargent pointed to long-overdue recognition of Black photographers similar to Anthony Barboza in addition to Ming Smith and the 1960s Kamoinge group, lately featured at the Whitney. “We have to use each technique to ensure that our photographs are seen and appreciated,” he mentioned, “as a result of frankly the artwork world didn’t care.”

Displaying Erizku within the Gagosian area Park & 75 — a storefront seen from the road — provides the exhibition vital accessibility. “With extra Black artists exhibiting than ever, there’s nonetheless an issue with museums and galleries attracting these audiences to see the work of members of their neighborhood,” he mentioned. “There are a variety of obstacles to entry in relation to the artwork world.”

Erizku typically incorporates wildlife in his photographs — he photographed the hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle with a horse, Michael B. Jordan with a falcon and a wolf; Gorman with a chook (that now chirps in a cage by the window in Erizku’s studio). He mentioned he was impressed early on by the unconventional 1974 efficiency of Joseph Beuys — “I like America and America likes me’’ — by which the German artist spent per week in his vendor’s gallery, fenced in with a dwell coyote.

The price of Erizku’s work is on the low finish for a significant gallerist like Gagosian, with items promoting for about $40,000 to $60,000. However Sargent mentioned it’s crucial for blue-chip galleries to showcase new views. “If we’re being sincere about saying that we wish to ensure that all voices are represented within the artwork world, we’ve to be severe about offering platforms for artists who’re pondering in methods which can be divergent from conventional notions round picture making,” Sargent mentioned.

To some extent, Erizku has bypassed the gatekeepers, on condition that he’s been presenting his personal reveals on social media for years. His major curiosity, the artist mentioned, is with the ability to talk and elevate Black photographs, whether or not of the actress Viola Davis, African masks, nail salon hands, Ethiopian sex workers or the basketball participant Kevin Durant.

“I wish to be remembered for Black creativeness,” Erizku mentioned, “to develop the bounds of Black artwork.”

Awol Erizku: Reminiscences of a Misplaced Sphinx

March 10-April 16, Gagosian Park & 75, 821 Park Avenue, Manhattan. 212-796-1228;

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