For artist and curator Nic Brierre Aziz, the past is a compass for the future. Aziz’s lineage and personal experience, and the collective experience of society at large, are at the heart of his thought-provoking work.
Aziz refers to himself as a Haitian-New Orleanian and is interested in illuminating the many connections (racial, political, religious, culinary, economic, and so forth) between the two places. His maternal grandfather, Jean Brierre, was born and raised in Haiti, attended Yale School of Medicine, then practiced as an OBGYN and surgeon in Shreveport, where his civil rights work helped integrate hospitals and catholic schools. He also amassed an important collection of Haitian art, consisting of more than 400 works.
Aziz’s father, Omar Aziz, Jr. was a second-generation owner of Omar’s Pies, which was part of New Orleans’ culinary landscape for more than three decades; his uncle is notable Haitian-American artist Ulrick Jean-Pierre; his Haitian-born mother, Monique Brierre Aziz, is a social worker whose heritage and influence “run deep” through his work.
“Art and entrepreneurship were always around me,” said Aziz, who strikingly resembles his late Haitian grandfather.
Aziz’s own artistry began with writing. But after obtaining his BA from Morehouse College and his MSc at University of Manchester in England, he turned his attention to visual arts, first as a curator of exhibitions and then through video, installations, performance and mixed media, boldly examining questions of race, Eurocentric ideals of beauty, fashion and taste and the seemingly arbitrary assignation of value.
“Blackness is a construct not created by Black people,” said Aziz, who recontextualizes everyday objects in his pieces.
His installation entitled “My God Wears a Durag” mixes video, voice and a bench draped in colorful head coverings to probe standards of dress. A work featuring Saints football jerseys, chain and cotton, is meant to draw parallels between exploitation of Black athletes and Louisiana’s history of slavery. A large photo entitled “Strange Brute Hanging from the Poplar Trees” is both a visual satire incorporating piñatas made to look like deposed Confederate monuments suspended from a tree and a verbal play on Billie Holliday’s elegiac song about lynching, “Strange Fruit”.
Aziz participated in the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2021 Artist-in-Residence program and is currently the community engagement curator for the New Orleans Museum of Art, a position that has enabled him to collaborate with everyone from chefs and dancers to students and prisoners. This fall, he curates “Itutu: Diddy Ain’t Invent The Remix,” a group show about recontextualization or “remix” as a form of expression among African-rooted peoples at Tone, a Black-owned Memphis gallery, through Oct. 15.
“I want to plant the seeds for a different garden to grow when we are no longer here,” said Aziz.