On 2 February Awol Erizku was propelled to fame with his photograph of Beyoncé, pregnant and framed by an enormous garland of flowers. With ten million likes, it is the most popular image to have ever been posted on Instagram.
Now the Los Angeles-based artist is turning to painting with an exhibition of new works opening on 20 April at Ben Brown’s London gallery. Titled Make America Great Again, an appropriation of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign slogan that was reused by Donald Trump, the exhibition is a response to what the artist describes as the “racism and bigotry” that is on the rise again in the US.
Several works combine readymade and painted elements. Wave Brake (2017) consists of a mop bucket placed in front of a painting on corrugated metal sprayed with the number 12, a slang term for the police. How That Make You Feel? (2017) features the Stars and Stripes printed with the Black Panther Party logo. Works are priced between $5,000 and $40,000.
Erizku, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and grew up in the South Bronx, told the New York Times that he chose to include the panther image “because I’m black and I’m Muslim and this is everything Trump has tried to stand against”.
It is the artist’s first solo show in Europe (followed by an exhibition that opens at Stems gallery in Brussels on 21 April), although Brown says he first made contact with Erizku 18 months ago–long before the Beyoncé shoot.
Brown acknowledges the photograph has been “a boon” to the gallery, with some sales being made as a direct result, but that it “in no way informed my decision to do a show with him”. Nonetheless, Brown says this is the first time that Instagram has “seriously influenced” one of his shows.
At 29, Erizku is the youngest artist in Brown’s stable, but he is already making waves in the UK. “He has been picked up by a couple more people with private museums in the past few weeks,” Brown says. “Ultimately my job now is to make sure British institutions know about him.”