“Self Must Die”
Derek Fordjour’s paintings, notable for their layered textures and materials, address complex themes of race, inequality and American society. Fordjour has achieved astonishing commercial success and firmly cemented his place in the art world. At Frieze art fair in 2019, he sold 10 paintings to Jay-Z and Beyonce. He often depicts Black athletes and performers–dancers, riders, rowers, drum-majors–characters that “navigate the ambiguities that come with their achievement, and the racial scrutiny that accompanies visibility in the mainstream culture.” With his newer work, however, less emphasis has been placed on these performative roles, and more on memorializing Black lives lost this year.
He explores mourning in a new ensemble painting “Chorus of Maternal Grief”, creating specific portraits of women like Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and Breonna Taylor’s mother. In “Pallbearers”, he features the coffin of George Floyd. The works are on view alongside other installations, including a puppet show, at Petzel Gallery in “Self Must Die”. Accompanying Fordjour’s show is an epigraph from “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” written by scholar Christina Sharpe. Sharpe writes “What does it look like, entail and mean to attend to, care for, comfort, and defend those already dead, those dying, and those living lives consigned to the possibility of always-imminent death, life lived in the presence of death… it means work.” Sharpe refers to “wake work”, an “ensemble of activities, grand and mundane, that acknowledge and address Black death, and in doing so, affirm Black life”. Fordjour addresses this concept alongside Black liberation theory and studies of Black mourning within his new work.