Nail Salon Paintings Critique a Ubiquitous Self-Care Symbol
Awol Erizku’s show at Nina Johnson rehashes the symbol of a hand holding a rose to examine larger cultural issues
The delicate hand with luscious nails clasping gently at a red rose is a rarely-discussed but potent symbol of Americana. Across the suburban and metropolitan plains of the U.S., these typically neon signs are the gatekeepers to a type of small, no-frills nail salons slowly on the decline as high-end salons with quieter, but more contemporary layouts and designs spread across the country. Still, the rose hand remains relatively ubiquitous at our present moment and it serves as the central point of inspiration for wunderkind artist Awol Erizku's ongoing solo show at Miami gallery Nina Johnson.
I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Didn't Let Me exterior view, Awol Erizku, 2016
I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Didn't Let Me incorporates this nail salon signage in every single work, nearly all paintings beyond a neon fixture in front of the space. But Erizku's series isn't merely a re-contextualization of a commercial signifier placed into an art space; each iteration of the rose has its typically white hand transformed into a different shade of brown, an act that reveals yet another example of "white as default" cultural practice, one that is particularly strange when considering how nail salons are operated by non-white individuals and servicing often non-white clientele.
This bizarre cultural phenomenon alongside the ambiguity of the sign were some of the larger driving forces for the artist: "What drew me to the ubiquitous nail salon sign at first was the fact that I never had seen a version with a black hand, and second, that it's weird that this motif doesn't communicate whether the hand is receiving the rose or giving it," Erizku explains to The Creators Project. "The moment the hand is black, considering the racial tension and political climate of our country, it took on a whole new life and meaning, which was very exciting to me as the basis for a new body of work."
Although the nail salon sign and its racial undertones are the cultural focal points of I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Didn't Let Me, a variety of other cultural signifiers are also embedded into Erizku's works. Every work is named after a popular hip-hop track describing a facet of, from Young Thug and Travis Scott's imploration for their partner's faithfulness "Pick Up the Phone" to "Codeine Crazy," Future's ode to lean. "They're songs I've dedicated to my partner, Sarah Lineberger. She's my biggest muse and the inspiration behind most, if not all, of my floral works," Erizku adds.
The final element of the exhibition is something he calls a 'conceptual mixtape,' a fusion of pop songs and the artist's own personalized sound bites that form a sort of sound collage, a practice that the artist has previously employed in his past five solo shows. For this exhibition, Erizku's conceptual mixtape incorporates the voices of his friends that "happened to be at the recording studio in LA while I was working on the mixtape."
I Was Going to Call It Your Name But You Didn't Let Me is on display at Nina Johnson in Miami through January 7th. View more of Awol Erizku's works here. A website iteration of the exhibition, filled with images of the works and Erizku's partner as well as an accompanying video of the artist at work can be seen here.