Here’s what you missed if you didn’t see Awol Erizku’s show, Menace II Society, which closed this past weekend at Night Gallery: everything.
From its predictably booming opening night—complete with a black-lit wall in bloom, pumping sound, and glittering disco-bust (entitled Nefertiti-Miles Davis) at its epicentre—to its final days, the show added a vital voice to an ongoing conversation about our incredibly fucked up and really deeply-rooted racial/social dynamic here in the U.S. (and abroad).
Erizku’s hallmark historically-informed and conflict-charged pieces open the new show with critical dialogue about the world we have carved out for ‘the other’ over the past, well forever. **she said writing a perhaps super pretentious piece as a caucasian/Mediterranean/Southern-Slavic who has been afforded many privileges by her birth in LA’s quiet South Bay**
Without interjecting too many of my own opinions on the subject, I hope the following reading of Erizku’s brilliant recent work is effective and informative.
Image Credit: Night Gallery
In this, his first solo exhibition at Night Gallery (though previously working with Night Gallery on Bad II the Bone, part of the artist’s nomadic Duchamp Detox Clinic), Erizku expands on previous themes of historicity and a Pan-African cult of imagery, including the repeating trope of Nefertiti’s bust, here both disarming an assailant using only her gaze and later captivating stargazers as glittering rays danced off her mirrored skin.
Erizku’s show feels like the perfect balance of chaos and halcyon. Images of butchery on plywood, fences, even the gallery walls using house-paint, spray paint, and acrylic, focus on African figures slicing into white pigs from the Black Panther Coloring Book.
Each vignette escalates in its violence, a response to the previous in rotation. A final, brutal slaughter occurs with the murdering of a pig in cop clothing: the coup d’état.
Panthers, Ancient Egyptian figures, and Nkondi are witnesses to the scene. And were it not for the light provided by Nefertiti overhead and Erizku’s strategic use of glitter—the gleam from a violet-hued shoe—you might get sucked into the singularity of this imagery. But the message cuts deeper. The idea being that we must learn from a history in which our society has sought on institutional levels to continuously undermine and systematically endanger generations of Africans, African-Americans, and Black-Americans.
Going back to the idea of contextualizing with visual history, the Black Panther Coloring Book, which serves as the inspiration for the images in the show was first distributed to white families living in suburban neighborhoods in 1968 by the FBI under authority of the Nixon Administration.
…Believe me, I wish this was a conspiracy theory, but it really happened. The coloring book was designed to discredit the Black Panthers and make them look like total psychos, which in another time was (but sadly, perhaps now in the wrong audience would also be) somewhat effective. The book was purportedly created by the Black Panthers, but was in fact rejected by them, because it was so opposite what they stood for—duh, look at the illustrations…but you can decide for yourself by peeping the collection of totally heinous images here: whatreallyhappened
Beyond the imagery and sculptures, as if none of that were enough to get one really REALLY thinking about our past and present state of affairs, in the courtyard sits a staple from the artist’s œuvre—Ask the Dust (2016). The ever-grammed desert Porsche, filled with flowers by Sarah Lineberger, helps highlight a final or perhaps primary sentiment adorning the exterior: FUCK TWELVE.
Rife with color and sick with feeling, Menace II Society was the exact brand of informative medicine that we continue to need right now.
By: Milena Grgas