Malcolm x Freestyle (Pharaoh's Dance)

Awol Erizku American

Not on view

Born in Ethiopia and raised in the South Bronx, Erizku is a multidisciplinary artist who works in photography, film, sculpture, and installation. In vibrant still life photographs, Erizku composes poetic constellations of objects—books, Hollywood props, African sculptures, souvenirs from his travels to Egypt—to create a new visual lexicon of and for the African diaspora. Layered with references to contemporary Black vernacular culture, the photographs are rich with word play, symbolism, and multiple significations.

Here, he explores ancient Egyptian imagery as a source of self-empowerment in the Black cultural imagination—an interest closely tied to the overarching philosophical approach he calls “Afro-esotericism.” The work’s title, Malcolm X Freestyle (Pharoah’s Dance), refers in part, to Malcolm X’s travels in Egypt and his conversion to traditional Islam in the early 1960s. “Pharaoh’s Dance” is a track on Miles Davis’s groundbreaking album Bitches Brew, a powerful source of creative inspiration for the artist. Some of the assembled objects carry coded references to hip hop slang and iconography: a hammer and two glock pistols are tucked among the artifacts. To some viewers, the metal faucets may signify “drip” (stylish, confident), the bricks may suggest “stacking bricks” (to brag, among other things). The extinguished candles simultaneously evoke “fire” (guns) and being “lit” (excited), while the drifting smoke defies the stillness of the still life, evoking the passage of time. Conceptually compelling and executed with great technical finesse, the photograph reinvigorates the historical genre of the still life, speaking a new visual language that confidentially centers the global cultural legacy of Blackness.

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