Awol Erizku, 13 Months of Sunshine, 2020 125th St. between 5th Ave. & Malcolm X Blvd., Manhattan Courtesy the artist Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY. Photographic work as a part of Awol Erizku: New Visions for Iris, an exhibition on 350 JCDecaux bus shelter displays across New York City and Chicago, February 24 to June 20, 2021

Free admission (all visitors, all hours)


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.

Erizku updates traditional Western art historical genres of portraiture and still life with a diverse array of motifs and references, including Egyptian symbols, musical instruments, flowers, birds, and quiet moments of men in prayer or contemplation. One still-life composition speaks to the crisis of mass-incarceration, incorporating prison attire but also the Quran and other signs of spiritual renewal and hope. A sensitive portrait of Michael Brown Sr. captures the tragic legacy of police violence. Optimism for the next generation is expressed in still lifes with toys and letterforms. Erizku also depicts the inspiration that is found through prayer, dialogue, art, and global connection, portraying objects like wax casts of African masks, the shape of the continent transformed into a cake, trumpets and fruit arranged like an altar, and majestic birds that, for Erizku, evoke Black individuals as masters of their own destiny.

This new group of meditative pictures was produced during the past tumultuous year. The difficulties of the pandemic and attendant social unrest were countered by the blessings of the birth of Erizku’s daughter Iris, as well as a period of spiritual and artistic growth. In New Visions for Iris, he reflects on the moment with a deeply personal interpretation of how art can act as a site to process challenging times and spark conversation. The artist sees these images as starting points for future dialogue with his daughter about complicated issues. They are also intended as prompts for all audiences to find connection, community, and beauty in the scenes they depict. Each “new vision” is a proposition that invites us to reimagine inherited traditions as our own sources for liberation and inspiration. Through that process, they can help us see and create the world anew.