ANA Spotlight: Awol Erizku

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Erizku’s, use of color and symbolism in his studio photography is abundant. Eriku’s own story is paralleled in the cross-cultural narrative, which combines references from different eras and places, such as an African mask, a syrup bottle, a wooden incense burner, and a bust of Queen Nefertiti that is shrink-wrapped. Eriku’s story connects his Ethiopian origins to his life in the US (New York and Los Angeles).

Nefertiti — Miles Davis (Gold)” (2022), hard coated foam and mirrored tile, like a disco ball. Image courtesy of Awol Erizku and Gagosian; Rob McKeever

Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, in 1988, Awol Erizku currently resides and works in both Los Angeles and New York. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York awarded Erizku a BFA, and the Yale School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut, awarded him an MFA. The FLAG Art Foundation in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston both have collections.

Erizku produces pictures, paintings, sculptures, and video installations that are reminiscent of classical artworks but with models of color in place of the original topics. He works to control and alter his perspective of unfairly underrepresented African characters through a variety of media.

The photograph “Girl With a Bamboo Earring,” which featured a Black woman wearing a sizable heart-shaped hoop earring, was created by Erizku in his third year at Cooper Union as a depiction of Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” An edition of the portrait was sold at Phillips auction company in 2017 for $52,500.

Girl with a Bamboo Earring, 2009, Chromogenic print, 62.6 × 124.5 cm
Image Courtesy of Artsy

Since then, he has shown at galleries across the world, including, among others, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto, the Studio Museum, Harlem, New York, the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

He is with Ben Brown Gallery in London and Hong Kong, but he is not currently represented in the United States. His images of influential figures in the arts and culture have appeared in publications like the New Yorker, New York, GQ, and Vanity Fair. Additionally, he is the photographer behind the acclaimed  Beyonce maternity shoot, in 2017.  Which was the most liked picture on Instagram at the time. Despite this achievement, Erizku prides himself on being an artist first and foremost.

Awol Erizku, Lion (Body) I (2022). Duratrans on lightbox. 125.2 x 166.7 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Earlier this year, Erizku showcased a solo exhibition titled, “Memories of a Lost Sphinx’. Presented by Gasgonian “My first encounter with the Great Sphinx of Giza led me to produce my own interpretation of the mystique and essence of the sphinx as a concept. The result is my interpolation of the space between my memory and imagination.” described by the artist to the Gasgonian. In ‘Memories of a Lost Sphinx’, Erizku expands on his “Afro-esoteric” iconography by examining the connections between historical myth, diasporic tradition, and modern society.

Awol Erizku, Black Fire (Mouzone Brothas) (2019). Digital chromatic print. 50.8 x 67.8 cm
Image courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts and the artist, London

Sargent, Gasgonian curator, describes Erizku’s work as “The art world has flattened the ways in which Blackness operates. Doing exhibitions like this one helps to expand beyond an overemphasis on figurative painting,” he added that it was a way to continue a conversation “beyond some of the fashionable notions of the Black figure.

Erizku in his studio
Image courtesy of The New York Times

Due to the fact that Erizku has been presenting his own events on social media for years, he has somehow gotten around the gatekeepers. Awol Erizku is taking up space and breaking boundaries. We look forward to seeing what he presents to the world in 2023 and beyond. 


Azeeza Sanni is the General Manager of Art News Africa. She is a graduate of Middlesex University of Mauritius & Monash South Africa. You can reach her with information/requests on mail@artnewsafrica.com.

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