Most of us have seen it, and whether we care about the trend of celebrity pregnancies and babies, there’s no debating that Awol Erizku caused a big stir when he snapped the already iconic photo of a twin-bearing pregnant Beyoncé. To many, at first it seemed like a weird mix of artsy and casual, of not trying too hard and yet being unusual, but this photograph of Beyoncé showing off her belly in non-matching underwear, with a veil over her face and a big floral wreath is actually the careful artistic composition of Awol Erizku, a 28-year-old artist based in New York and Los Angeles. Jay Z and Beyonce used the photograph on Instagram to announce the pregnancy, and with the overwhelming reactions from the public came the question – who is the man behind the camera?
Born in Ethiopia, raised in Bronx, Awol Erizku is a very promising politically and socially conscious African-American artist who was already somewhat known to those involved with the art scene. But it was the Beyoncé’s photo that propelled him to much broader fame almost instantly. Despite the fact the image got more than 10 million likes and generated quite a massive buzz, the artist was reluctant to discuss it and didn’t really want to hop on the hype train, even though he figuratively put it on the tracks in the first place. Here, we will focus on the artist’s first solo exhibition in Europe where he made a huge departure from his photographic work and presented new sculptures, paintings and a very interesting conceptual mix-tape, produced exclusively for the exhibition.
Make America Great Again is the infamous line first used in the Ronald Reagan campaign, brought back by the current president, and it is the title of Erizku’s first solo exhibition on this side of the ocean. The artist did not shy away from displaying strong political views and expressing the social issues pertaining to the modern culture of America. Themes of racism, bigotry, discrimination and general political turmoil are clearly amplified and brought to light in the exhibition. A prison door with “Trump” sprayed on it, with the letter T being a swastika; a silkscreened American flag with a printed black panther across the stars and stripes; gang-coded messages and various graffiti; all immersed in a brooding conceptual mix-tape of hip-hop songs chosen by the artist create a unique audio-visual experience. What would seem as mundane and random street tagging, takes on a whole new shape in Erizku’s exhibition. Re-appropriated writing, symbols and objects are combined with assemblages of visual cues and music to express the burning issues of today’s America.
Not “cashing in” on the fame from capturing the pregnancy of one of the most popular couples today might have been the best decision Awol Erizku has made. It is clear the artist is much more than someone who just creates a viral Instagram photo, and by keeping his artistic integrity, Erizku can continue nurturing his creative passion and building a his practice.
Ben Brown Fine Arts
12 Brook’s Mews
Mayfair, London W1K 4DG
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