These days, cultural dialogues are born and buried within minutes on the Internet. The chorus of the Black Internet is a powerful force to be reckoned with—one that brings about critical movements for social change and ingenious artistry. “I’m convinced the things we are talking about are proof that events that have transpired must live in other corners of the Internet as well. The sum of all of these corners and digital experiences is the body of the Black Internet,” says visual artist Azikiwe Mohammed, whose solo show, Black Internet, is on view at Gallery Sensei in Chinatown in New York.
By Tanwi Nandini Islam, AFROPUNK Contributor *
He balances a vivid interplay between the old school, like his intricate watercolor portraits of cats on pizza, and modern uses of technology, seen in his fantastical digitally printed quilts of incarcerated rappers. Born and raised in TriBeCa, studio space has been an issue to bring his work to scale. After his long work hours in a nonprofit art and music school, Mohammed travels to Mana Contemporary Fine Arts in Jersey City around 8pm to start his “day” in the studio. In the context of a new city and new studio, Mohammed’s imagination has gone into uncharted territory. His inspiration is drawn from an eclectic catalog of artistic references, which include Sun Ra, Lil B, Lisa Frank, Gary Winogrand, Romare Bearden, Gil Scott-Heron, “the sentient creature who invented pizza and the one black dude at the party.”
“You hear the phrase Free Boosie and Free Max B thrown around all the time, but many of these people don’t know who these men are,” says Mohammed. “By making these blankets, I hope to “Weird Science” The Black Internet to life. Hopefully, someone will take a moment to TYBG (Thank You Based God, a phrase coined by Lil’ B) that Boosie is supposed to come home in February. These are humans. Our freedom is real and so should theirs be.”
Mohammed’s show is on view until February 26, and seeing these large scale works in real life has a simultaneously joyful and sobering effect on the viewer. One on hand, you’ll marvel at house his hand-painted peony blossoms are so damned intricate; on the other, you’ll remember the grave reality that Max B has been sentenced to 75 years in prison (although reports of a 2016 release are circulating). Cats on pizzas, Usher crying alligator tears over the young madman that is Justin Bieber—each and everyone of Mohammed’s pieces feels relevant and like a passing moment.
Just like the Internet.
* * Tanwi Nandini Islam on Twitter: @tanwinandini