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Awol Erizku Gives The Great Art Masters 21st Century Updates In 'The Only Way is Up'

Ethiopian-born artist Awol Erizku gives the great art masters 21st century updates in The Only Way is Up at NYC's Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.

The Only Way is Up for emerging talent Awol Erizku after debuting his photo, sculpture, and installation exhibition at the Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in New York City. Born in Ethiopia, 26-year old Erizku wants to remove the “black art” connotation from artistic dialogues. It’s a very bold approach for such a young artist, but Erizku’s latest exhibition tells us that he is ambitious and serious about it.


The Only Way Is Up debuted in June 2014 and it sought to give the great art masters “21st century updates.” According to Hasted Kraeutler's website, the show took its title from a Quincy Jones record and consists of "re-contextualized and re-purposed ready-made objects." In an interview with Complex, Erizku explained “With the show, I am trying to create a new vernacular, in terms of how you see my work and black art as being universal.”

Erizku, who completed his B.A. at the Cooper Union in 2010 and received his M.F.A. from Yale, recently curated a group show entitled Deep End: Yale MFA Photo 2014, a presentation of work by photography recent graduates at Yale. The exhibition is currently on its third and final run at the Los Angeles gallery Diane Rosenstein Fine Art. The show features photography, video, sound installation, textiles, sculpture, performance, and mixed media by five men and five women who are testing the limits of their chosen medium.

Erizku says his first inspiration came from the Bronx where he wanted to paint a more positive outlook on the youth of his community who were subjects of harsh and critical stereotypes. Though Erizku’s subjects may appear mundane or even unappealing to some, he seeks to bridge the gap on how people define beauty by working with these “unappealing” subjects. “‘Hidden in plain sight’ in my work extends to the people I photograph," he told Palladium Boots. "To me, they are beautiful but they aren’t models. Finding a regular person and seeing the beauty in them and wanting to work with them and photograph them is a kind of discovery.”

Interview
Photo: Shawn Theodore via Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

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