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How to Embed a Shout: A New Generation of Black Artists Contends with Abstraction

 written by Seph Rodney, Hyperallergic, August 23, 2017

I’m in Tariku Shiferaw’s studio because of a conversation about black masculinity. We met several months ago at a dinner event, Elia Alba’s Supper Club, held at the 8th Floor gallery where we collectively — several artists, historians, curators — chewed over how we now deal with each other as black men and how we might improve our relationships. Shiferaw is a 34-year-old artist originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who earned his MFA degree from Parsons School of Design. He invited me to his studio in Bushwick to check out his work, and then we ran into each other again, randomly at a opening a few weeks later, thereby reminding me of our scheduled meeting. After I place my backpack down, I take out my notebook and pen, but don’t write yet. I take stock of how orderly Shiferaw has placed the work he wants to show me. There is rigor apparent just in that choice. I start mentally listing the obvious aspects of his paintings which hang on the two walls nearest the entrance, at eye level: first of all, the “canvas” isn’t canvas; it’s clear plastic that’s stretched taut over wood frames, acrylic paint thinly applied in inch-wide, horizontal bars that are ruler straight and evenly spaced, but with jagged ends, the palette a matte black or a darker royal blue. The paintings are big squares, perhaps two feet by two feet. This is some hard-hearted abstraction — giving me no narrative, hardly any painterly flourishes, and no reference to anything from life that I recognize, not even symbolically. I want to mention Pierre Soulages, who is now a very old French modernist painter, but his work was much more texture and uses reflective and non-reflective blacks against each other, and his paintings tend to be grand flights of ego. Shiferaw’s work is so much quieter, tightly held, reserved. Shiferaw offers me a beer; we sit facing each other and then get into it.


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Tariku Shiferaw’s studio in Bushwick.

Photographed by Seph Rodney.

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