Awol Erizku in Surface Magazine

November 30th, 2016

Awol Erizku won’t have it one way.

When the Ethiopian-born artist began his studies at Cooper Union, in New York City, he wanted to be a painter, but by the time he left he was focused on photography and film. When he pursued his master’s at Yale, he applied with a photography portfolio, but ended up making sculpture and installation works. “It started this trend of rebellion in the program,” says Erizku, 28, “challenging what it means to be in the photo department, and it caused a ripple effect.”

This malleable approach to his practice has resulted in photographs, film, paintings, installations, and even music playlists that are all part of his characteristically colorful output. Whether capturing Ethiopian sex workers in an odalisque pose—a reference to Manet—or reconstructing historical paintings with powerful black figures, or using his Instagram feed as a digital gallery, Erizku makes it difficult for critics to pigeonhole him.

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