What Public Art Fund says: "Awol Erizku's distinctive visual language emerges from thoughtful, contemplative underpinnings into layered, colorful, and striking photographs. Erizku (b. 1988, Gondar, Ethiopia) has created a new body of 13 photographs for 350 JCDecaux bus shelters across New York City's five boroughs and throughout Chicago. 'New Visions for Iris' marks Public Art Fund's first simultaneous presentation in two cities, and first ever in Chicago.
Growing up in the Bronx and influenced by its diverse milieu, Erizku's approach to photography is informed by both contemporary life in the United States and global culture. In 'New Visions for Iris,' Erizku highlights the paradoxes of how hybrid identities are treated within American society. His bold and vibrant images contain evocative juxtapositions and compositions with highly saturated colors that call to mind the improvisational expressiveness and poetic nuance of his adopted forefathers: David Hammons, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Kobe Bryant, Nas, and others."
Why it's worth a look: In the midst of the confusion, sadness, and anxiety of 2020 on an international scale, artist Awol Erizku was managing a tectonic shift in his personal life: the birth of his first child, a daughter named Iris. The experience profoundly affected the photographer, who rose to superstardom with his dramatically lit, meticulously staged images that challenge historical Western narratives by re-framing them through contemporary arbiters of identity.
Recalling early genre paintings and still lifes, Erizku's tableaux feature a melange of icons and objects, including cowrie shells, African masks, Egyptian busts, colorful plastic toys, and Ethiopian letterforms, all references to aspects of personal and global identity, religion, nationality, and consumerism.
"As a father, I think about how to raise a daughter in this world and explain cultural parameters and gray areas," the artist said in a statement. "I want my daughter Iris to grow up with these images so they're the norm for her."
Also included in the suite of photos are contemplative portraits, including one of Michael Brown Sr., pictured in profile and cast in shadow against a green backdrop. In another, a man is seen from behind wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey as he kneels in prayer on a small rug in a park. A great bird is perched on the seat of a motorcycle next to him. Birds occur frequently in the series, wings outstretched, either about to take off in flight, or just alit. These, like many aspects of the works in the show, serve as symbols of renewal and transformation.
"With 'New Visions for Iris,' I want to reflect a less fixed, rigid, institutional understanding of the spaces we occupy," Erizku says.
What it looks like: