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"I was thinking about Manet's , a white woman lies nude on a bed, with a flower tucked into her hair, black necklace tied tightly around her neck, and wears pearl earrings, while an African woman stands bedside presenting a bouquet of flowers.Manet's painting has played a large role in defining ideals of beauty and aesthetics in western culture, so for Erizku, his own images present "updates" that he considers missing from the trajectory of contemporary art. In the summer of 2013, Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist Awol Erizku flew to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with not much more than his camera and photographs of Edouard Manet's .Through the trip, he aimed to challenge the mythologized art historical roles of Venus and the odalisque in Western painting, resulting in a new body of work currently on view at The Flag Art Foundation in New York.In Ethiopia, both sex work and prostitution is legal, and Erizku, who paid the women to take their photographs says, "They could take off as much or little clothing as they wanted." Additionally, the women could choose between recreating Manet's or Ingres's Venus, because for him, "it was a collaboration."Hours after the artist landed in New York to install the portraits, we spoke with him about the show and his practice.ANTWAUN SARGENT: Did you know what you wanted to do when you landed in Addis Ababa?AWOL ERIZKU: I knew exactly what I was there to do. I had a friend who was doing a Peace Corp mission in Ethiopia, who came back and ask me if I had thought about looking into the sex work industry in Ethiopia, because she spoke to a lot of women who were in that position.Around that time I was thinking about Manet's , and you have a prostitute in the foreground—not a sex worker, but a prostitute, this is a well-known fact—and the bed becomes a platform. ERIZKU: Looking throughout history, the reclining Venus is a recurring theme in art history, and now you have the Mickalene Thomases and the Renée Coxes, but no one has really done it from a male perspective.

They mimic the poses of Olympias and Odalisques, but infuse the figures' histories with new meaning.

Then you have this black figure offering a flower to her, and I think it's a fact that Manet put her there as a compositional device, as an after thought, so there wasn't a negative area. SARGENT: I feel with Mickalene Thomas's work, you get a feminist reading of the black female body, but we also know the history of women sitting as muses for men.

He continuously explores questions surrounding the representation of beauty in contemporary art.

When looking at "New Flower| Images of the Reclining Venus," it is undeniable that the images also lend themselves to a conversation about commercial sex work, prostitution, and women's rights.

Unlike works by artists Mickalene Thomas and Rénee Cox, Erizku considers his work having less to do with creating liberating feminist images and more to do with elevating the universality of blackness.

In this way, Erizku's guiding impulses for the polychromatic show expand upon themes explored in past solo shows, including "Black and Gold" and "The Only Way Is Up," as well as a recent screening of his video work .

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