Tariku Shiferaw

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1983

Tariku Shiferaw’s paintings disrupt systems of visual understanding through intentional contradictions. His paintings are often informed and influenced by ephemeral structures and objects he arranges in order to physically explore space. He uses these temporary, site specific objects as a perceptive device. While he addresses formalist concerns through compositional elements, such as color, line, shape, texture, and gesture, he also obscures and interrupts his paintings by establishing dialectical relationships between forms and concepts.

Shiferaw does this by using oppositional forms and shapes: his painterly gestures fight against well-defined shapes to create depth and confusion between figure and ground. He juxtaposes abstract forms against symbols with meanings, which resist one another by creating visual and conceptual disagreement. Geometric forms and x’s are examples of such forms. In math, X is an unknown variable until it is decrypted, then it becomes obsolete when the unknown variable is uncovered. Since X has many preexisting meanings ascribed to it, appropriating it in his paintings activates both the painting and the form. Moreover, it creates dissonance between the symbols and abstract forms it neighbors. Shiferaw is invested in the concept of X solely functioning as a temporary placeholder for an unknown variable. He is interested in the duality of X as both an abstract form and as a socially recognized symbol that signifies numerous things. The symbolic projection that X brings interrupts the way his abstract paintings operate, and this interruption becomes one of the aesthetic principles on which Shiferaw’s work is built. Through such contradictions and intentional inconsistencies, his work challenges these systems of visual knowledge.

Tariku Shiferaw grew up in Los Angeles, California, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.