Awol Erizku Is Reviving And Redefining Manet’s Olympia With Prostitutes From Addis Ababa.
New Flower | Images of the Reclining Venus at The FLAG Art Foundation presents Awol Erizku’s series of photographs taken in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa in 2013. The Ethiopian South-Bronx-raised artist challenges the mythologized art historical role of the Venus and the odalisque in Western painting, setting these tropes against the reality of one of the largest concentrations of sex workers in Africa.
A continuous theme in the work of Awol Erizku is the re-contextualizing of iconic art historical images through a cross-disciplinary approach to sculpture, photography, music, video installation, and social media channels.
“Growing up going to the MoMA or the Met, and not seeing enough people of color (in the art or in the museum)…I felt that there was something missing. So when I was ready to make work as art, I wanted to comment and critique the art history, and make art that reflected the environment I grew up around…”
When Manet painted Olympia he wanted to show a more realistic and contemporary odalisque, “a lower-class girl rather than a goddess, a prostitute rather than a courtesan. What shocked contemporary audiences was not Olympia’s nudity, nor the presence of her fully clothed maid, but her confrontational gaze and a number of details identifying her as a demi-mondaine or prostitute.
Like her, the subjects of New Flower | Images of the Reclining Venus, are staring directly at the viewers, challenging our gaze and questioning the romanticism of the odalisque featured in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque (1814) and Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863).
A ‘Conceptual Mixtape’ by Erizku, produced in collaboration with Los Angeles-based DJ SOSUPERSAM, plays throughout New Flower | Images of the Reclining Venus, featuring music and soundbites from Kerry James Marshall’s “Elson Lecture: Kerry James Marshall: The Importance of Being Figurative” at the National Gallery of Art, expanding on the ideas of the exhibitions.
The exhibition’s title New Flower is the English translation of Addis Ababa, where Erizku created the series.
Coinciding with the exhibition at FLAG, Erizku will also present a solo exhibition of new sculpture and painting, Bad II the Bone, at a roaming space the artist titled Duchamp Detox Clinic, in downtown Los Angeles, CA.
New Flower | Images of the Reclining Venus at The FLAG Art Foundation till December 12, 2015, 545 West 25th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10001
All images by Awol Erizku via dazed