written by Nzinga Simmons, Art Papers, 2020
In his installation A Boy Is a Gun (Tyler, The Creator) (2020) Shiferaw explores the dichotomy between the colors black and blue, and their multiple and varied connotations. The work consists of 12 black, wooden forms that echo the structure of shipping pallets, placed on top of a cerulean blue surface. Shiferaw relies on the openness of abstract language to subtly reference through hues the relationship between Black bodies and blue uniforms, the melancholic sounds of the blues, the blue–collar workforce, and the black and blue of bruised skin. Shiferaw’s work hinges on the multiplicity of meaning that can be drawn from a simple color or a single form.
Horizontal bars, which recur in much of Shiferaw’s work, can be understood as symbolizing censorship and blockage. Shiferaw conceptualizes these bars as a deconstructed X, however, and uses them to mark space—the physical space of the canvas, and a metaphorical space within the history of abstraction. Shiferaw’s work nods to midcentury abstraction, but he also marks this minimalist, formal vocabulary with references to Black popular culture. He weaves historical and contemporary narratives together by referencing hip-hop, R&B, blues, and jazz—musical genres that originated in black communities—in his titles.
Tariku Shiferaw, A Boy is a Gun (Tyler, the Creator), 2020