Tariku Shiferaw’s work, Watch (Travis Scott), 2018 is currently on view at 21c Cincinnati as part of the exhibition What is Past is Prologue: An Elevate Exhibition. Tariku Shiferaw explores mark-making through painting, mixed-media, and installation, addressing the physical and metaphysical spaces of art and social structures. The work interrogates the act of mark-making, as well as the identity and role of the thinker responsible for the marks. Power struggles between those allowed to make their mark in society and those who are marked is further deconstructed through his artwork. Apart from paint on canvases, Shiferaw also incorporates ready-made objects and materials in his installations, often using transparent and colored mylar, and subverting their utilitarian characteristics in assembly or hanging to create a body of evocative works that question perception and space.
Every work is titled using song titles from Hip-Hop, R&B, Blues, Jazz, Reggae, and Afro Beats, genres of music that have historically been instruments of resistance against a system that has repeatedly attempted to silence and erase Black bodies. The works automatically inherit the references, identities, and history portrayed through the songs, effectively marking, claiming space, and celebrating Black bodies and culture. The work on view at 21c Cincinnati, Watch (Travis Scott) references the song “Watch” by American rapper, Travis Scott, featuring vocals from Lil Uzi Vert and Kanye West.
21c caught up with Tariku Shiferaw to see how he is feeling, his #protips for fellow artists, and what he’s reading, listening to, and snacking on.
How are you feeling today? This week? This year?
Tariku Shiferaw (TS): I’m feeling much better than when the pandemic began over a year ago. Uncertainty in the state of health, career, and everything else was a major concern. Now that we’re in September 2021 and vaccinated, I’m feeling more at ease. It also helps seeing businesses such as restaurants, stores, and galleries that are now open and functioning in ways that preserves people’s livelihoods.
What are you looking forward to in your art practice?
TS: The thing I most look forward to in my art practice is spending time in my studio making works, exploring new mediums and ideas. It’s surprising how much of my time is spent doing administrative stuff to maintain and support my art practice.
How can people continue to support artists in their communities?
TS: I think there are many ways of supporting artists. First of all, if you’re an artist and want to support other artists: be a part of an artist community you are most drawn to. Social values and special interest groups go a long way. Secondly, if you’re not an artist or an art professional and want to support artists: find the community of artists that speak most to you. You can support through collecting/acquiring artworks, giving workspace to artists who need a studio, and/or introducing your network of professionals to the artists in the community you’re interested in. This creates a variety of opportunities for underrepresented artists to be seen and heard.
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in your journey that you would like to share with fellow artists?
TS: Yes, always keep the focus on your art. The magic is in the making of the work. There are too many distracting things that fight for your time—some come in the form of opportunities. However, not all is beneficial to your art practice. Always consider the cost.
What is your go-to food of choice these days? Any new recipes that you have tried that you are excited to make again?
TS: I’m not the greatest when it comes to cooking, but lately I’ve been into a variety of salads—specifically Greek Salad. In the morning, I alternate between oatmeal, toast, or eggs with avocado.
What are you reading or watching or listening to that you would recommend to others?
TS: I’m currently re-reading The Iliad by Homer, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and The Black Market by Charles Moore. For the past month, I’ve been listening to StarTalk Radio hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tayson. I love to diversify what I read and listen to—old Greek mythology and sci-fi are some of my favorite genre to indulge whenever I get the chance. More than art or art history, listening and learning about the cosmos feed my creativity and often increase the level of my curiosity about things in the universe and life in general. Learning about the universe also gives me a freshly new perspective on society and the politics we deploy to co-exist with one another.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, growing up in Los Angeles, and currently based in New York City, Shiferaw finds inspiration from the diverse cultures in his environments, particularly in the areas of music and language. Shiferaw’s ongoing series of paintings One of These Black Boys references musical genres that have originated in black communities—Hip-hop, R&B, Reggae, Afrobeats, Blues, and Jazz—a context that charges the works with musical references, identities, and cultural histories.
Shiferaw’s work may be understood in the framework of midcentury abstraction, but the artist also infuses this formal vocabulary with critical observations from popular culture.
Museum exhibitions that have presented works by Tariku Shiferaw include the 2017 Whitney Biennial as part of Occupy Museums at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; A Poet*hical Wager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Ohio; Unbound at the Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA), Kennesaw, Georgia; Men of Change, organized by The Smithsonian Institution, and held at the California African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles; and What’s Love Got to Do with It? at The Drawing Center, New York, New York. Shiferaw has participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Studio), in Open Sessions at The Drawing Center (2018-2020), and he was artist-in-residence at the LES Studio Program in New York City. Shiferaw is currently an artist-in-residence at the World Trade Center through Silver Art Projects.