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Art & Life with Tariku Shiferaw

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tariku Shiferaw.

Tariku, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia briefly lived in Nairobi, Kenya around the age of nine, and then moved to Los Angeles, where I was raised. My first encounter of art was seeing my older brother, Dagnachew, draw movie characters on his school notebook. I was so fascinated by his quick and accurate ballpoint-pen drawings, that I’d nag, bribe, or do whatever was possible to have him draw me more.

However, it wasn’t until my last two years at Venice high school that I picked up art for myself. With the mentorship of Marco Elliott, I got admitted into a summer art residency program for high school students at California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). At the conclusion of the program, I decided I would not pursue any other career but art. I completed my BFA at University of Southern California (USC), Roski School of Art and Design in 2007, and later, my MFA at Parsons The New School for Design in 2015.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make abstract paintings.

In my current body of work titled, “One of These Black Boys,” I explore paint and mark-making in order to address the physical and metaphysical materiality of bodies as constrained within societal structures. The work is an interrogation into the identity of the thinker behind the marks: the painterly gestures and ordering of thoughts, impulses, and the personal experiences makes symbols and spaces hold the weight they do.

My practice is grounded in the use of geometric forms. I am fascinated by their fluctuation of meanings and non-meanings throughout history; the symbol “x” being the best example. Over the centuries “x” has meant everything from a destination, a designation, a desire, a danger, and a denouncement. I realize that my Black body in Western society functions similarly to “x,” it is simultaneously showered with adoration and apathy.

In “One of These Black Boys,” I use song titles from Black Diasporic musical forms, ranging from the Blues to Hip-Hop, as the foundation for the gestures I layer in each piece. The titles are a vital part of the work addressing fragments of the conceptual concern dealing with Black bodies in socially constructed spaces. In appropriating song titles as painting titles, the work automatically inherits the references, identities, and the history portrayed through the songs.

Louis Armstrong in the song, “Black And Blue” wonders what he did to be so black and blue, and concludes that his only sin is in his skin. Another work references, ‘If I Ruled The World’ by NAS featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill; in the song, they re-imagine their reality with hopes to change it. Dialectically overlaying these poetic song-gestures onto my paintings makes the work into an act of mapping, allowing the viewer to navigate through the legacies of struggle these lyrics express.

As to why I make the art that I make:
I love paintings and making them. I like that my work taps into a lineage of existing conversations in regards to abstract paintings, and yet, bring up topics that were excluded in art history; topics of blackness in abstraction. I use music to layer over my paintings as a way to softly introduce a rich reference with history to challenge and assert new ideas to the status quo.

What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
Yes, it can be lonely at times, but that’s a good thing. We all need a thinking space.

The best way to connect with other artists is to attend exhibition openings. It’s a way of showing support toward other artists and being physically visible. It takes time, but meeting one person eventually leads to building a community of artists as a support system to navigate through the art world.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
On my website and on my Instagram page, in which I post frequently.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
David Connolly

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