This is one of four works by Aaron Fowler in his show Into Existence at the Seattle Art Museum. Jasmyne Keimig
Aaron Fowler is the 2019 recipient of the Seattle Art Museum's 2019 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize, which is awarded to one early-career Black artist and comes with $10,000 and a solo exhibition at the museum. Originally from St. Louis and now based in Los Angeles, Fowler is known for his large-scale mixed-media works that use a wide variety of found materials to create playful and thoughtful meditations on Black identity, American history, and his personal life.
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His show that's currently up at SAM, Into Existence, takes its title literally, an artistic manifestation of things to come: spending more time with his nephew, working on art with his father, the freedom of his childhood friend Debo who is currently wrongly imprisoned. Blending structural qualities of American history painting with religious iconography, "Amerocco," pictured above, is an ode to Fowler's shoe store dream and friendship.
Fowler leaning down to wash the shoes of his friend, Yannis. JK
The artist himself is depicted in the center of the piece, as a stand-in for Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, which are based off the artist's friends. But rather than an Old Testament or a Renaissance setting, this foot-washing occurs within a shoe store of Fowler's dreams, also named Amerocco, featuring a collaborative sneaker designed by himself and a close friend, Yannis. The spectacular mirror border is even meant to replicate the concrete-mirror façade of a storefront.
Fowler and Yannis wanted to fuse together the traditional shoes from both of their respective cultures: Fowler thought Nike Air Force 1s best represented his hometown of St. Louis while Yannis chose the babouche, a leather pointy-toed slip-on from his country of origin, Morocco. The result was a sort of Babouche Force 1 that retained the recognizable front half of the Nike shoe, but the back half of the Moroccan slipper. The background of the painting is decorated with these creations as if they are on display, though the sneakers don't currently exist for mass consumption (yet).
"Amerocco" sees a familiar Black object (the Air Force 1s) transformed into something that extends beyond our understanding of what the shoe is or could be. It's not just the shoe, "Amerocco" is also a vision of Blackness that fuses, melds, and transforms cultures in ways that feel collaborative, not exploitative. It's cultural appropriation and reappropriation done right.
A close-up. You can see the Babouche Force 1s in the background. JK
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