Shaking Hands with Savages

Indie. Passion. Art. Music.

Art Starved: Awol Erizku


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Erizku, Awol. Boy with a Ranunculus. 2012. Photograph. New York.

As human beings we like to think words are often the best way to convey feeling and emotion, but, there has been plenty said about believing half of what you see and none of what you hear. Well, personally I’m not Aristotle and I am not going to argue with you over the possibility that our senses are deceiving us; so, we can save that for another article. However, as a writer I sometimes must concede to the primacy of other mediums of expression; ironically, sometimes words just aren’t enough.

With that said, pictures have a tendency to affect people on a very primal and emotional level; take for instance the photograph of the small African child being stalked by a vulture. It was taken by Kevin Carter in 1994; the photo had the effect of illuminating the world to the plight of the Sudanese people at a time when most people didn’t know a place named Sudan existed. The photograph also stirred up many allegations and a backlash in and of itself that may have ultimately led to Kevin’s suicide, amongst other things. The point is, beyond simply being physical copies of memories, photographs capture both moments in time and expose the truth about this thing we call reality.

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Erizku, Awol. Girl with Cornrows. 2011. Photograph. New York.

This is where Awol Erizku comes in; the young photographer marries the concept of the modern black image and combines it with classical portraiture. His passion for photography was first fully realized while he was interning for David Lachapelle (which is no small feat in and of itself).  The subjects of his photographs are never demeaned or put in a position of inferiority, and they often pose in a regal fashion that harkens back to pictures painted in the late middle ages.  The photos are named after famous portraits, and In doing this Awol is not trying to deride his predecessors, rather he is subverting the notion that African-Americans should only be looked at with a sense of pity, and making a statement about how few faces of color are represented in Art History.  This is a stunning and unfortunate indictment that is intended to make us question a supposedly diverse institution, but as previously noted a picture can draws attention to social issues quicker than words.

His most famous picture Girl with a Bamboo Earring was taken in 2009 and in it a young woman looks into the camera with a sense of bemusement and intimacy; she stares onward as if frozen in an abyss sitting somewhere right outside of space.  The photo is a takeoff of the picture The Girl with a Pearl Earring painted by Johannes Vermeer in 1665.  My personal favorites are: The Boy Holding Grapes, The Girl Holding A Pigeon, and The Girl with A Leopard Coat. His photos have been featured in such high profile galleries as: The Rivington Design House, and The Hasted Kraeutler: Contemporary Art Gallery.

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Erizku, Awol. The Girl with a Leopard Coat. 2011. Photograph. Hasted AND Kraeutler Gallery, New York. Thank You, Come Again. Web.

Not all of his pictures are so serious, in fact many of his other works embolden the streets of New York and represent the livelier and more colorful underground scene that can go largely unnoticed; men with geometric variegated haircuts, and even louder outfits dominate some of these later works, which helps to show off the budding photographers more lively side. You can’t help but get a sense of late 80’s early 90’s hip-hop nostalgia, a time and place that for many seems like an era completely bygone.  Awol’s Tumblr is also full of candid shots of Awol just doing what most young people do, documenting his day-to-day travels with friends, and the occasional night out on the town.

Awol is putting a contemporary focus upon the images that we learn about in Art History and therefore extending the discussion about the black image in western society, and asking the question what is our place in this world we have come to find ourselves a part of. The young artist focuses on our beauty but not in an overtly aesthetic sense, so you won’t find images of models in the latest haute couture instead you will find images of people who you might see on any given street in any given city. All in all you could say he’s got an x-ray vision as his camera is in many ways focused on something uniquely inward as it is on something outward.


Awol’s Tumblr, Awol’s Facebook, Hasted and Kreautler Exhibit , Awol’s Twitter


Life would be so bland without art, right? Now imagine if  there were no Shaking Hands with Savages. I know pull the trigger now right? I wouldn’t even want to exist knowing that is a possible outcome, but some would accuse me of being a biased and self interested party, and I’d say they were correct, and cynical, but correct mostly. Anyway let’s prevent such a possible outcome for this blog by doing one of the following three cool things. You can follow Shaking Hands with Savages by clicking that little tab over there –>. There is also the Facebook option as well as Twitter, pick your antidote(but personally I like Facebook better hint hint).

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2013 by in Critique and tagged , , , .

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