Maurizio Cattelan Will Never Stop Trolling the Art World

Maurizio Cattelan is the enigmatic Italian artist whose work manages to conjure up both awe and ire, laughter and discomfort. In the past, VICE has been lucky enough to have the gloriously grotesque images from Toilet Paper, his collaborative magazine with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari, grace the cover and pages of our print edition. But he does a lot more than pump out glossy photos of dildos, nutsacks caught in zippers, and skeletons surrounded by raw meat. From the late 80s up until today, Cattelan has become one of the world's most exciting contemporary artists with powerful works that touch on everything from suicide and the fear of failure to the hypocrisy of religion and the decadent culture of the United States. 

While his hyperrealistic sculptures of everything from a Pinocchio who's drowned himself in a pool of water to a boyish Hitler in a praying pose fetch millions of dollars and generate a great deal of press, there isn't too much known about the man himself. In fact, the fragile concepts of authenticity and identity are things he loves to fuck with. He once stole the entire show of another artist and tried to exhibit it as his own, before the police turned up to retrieve the "borrowed" pieces. Sometimes, he features his own likeness in his work. At other times, he declines interviews altogether or sends an impostor to impersonate him

The closest you'll probably get to the man behind the mischievous art is Maura Axelrod's new documentary Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. While it gleefully embraces the distorted reality that Cattelan loves to project, it also makes a strong case for why his artistic vision is extremely vital today and could be for years to come. 

Axelrod started following Cattelan in the late 90s, specifically around the time he exhibited his most well-known and controversial work: a life-size sculpture of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a massive meteorite. The heart of the documentary, however, is centered on the outrageous 2012 retrospective Cattelan had at New York City's Guggenheim Museum, in which he hoisted all of his work up to that point from the oculus of the Guggenheim's rotunda in no discernible order.

La Nona Ora by Maurizio Cattelan in Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. Courtesy of Maura Axelrod Productions

Like that irreverent retrospective, the new doc holds up what Cattelan has brought to fore in the art world and allows us to view it from many different angles. In the film, his work is analyzed by top art critics, commodified by big money art buyers, and personalized by some of the women in his life. And Axelrod keeps things interesting by letting you feel at first like you're really getting to know Cattelan, just before pulling the rug out from under you. The result is a film that takes a big risk. And like much of Cattelan's work, that risk could be taken as a mere prank. But to me, there's a lot more there than a simple lark. Instead, the stunt opens up the kinds of complex conversations about truth and reality that are necessary to really engaging with Cattelan's oeuvre. 

To find out what it was like intimately documenting a man who is notorious for deflection and distortion, I gave Axelrod a call. Her background is actually in producing and directing more hard news content for outlets like the New York Times and ABC, so I wanted to know what drew her to Cattelan and implored her to make such an unconventional film about art. Here's what she had to say. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Maura Axelrod. Photo by Olivia Locher

VICE: How did this project start?
Maura Axelrod: I met Maurizio when we were kids. He often says it was before he could even grow a beard. I met him at an opening at a gallery. He tried to get me to go with him to another party, but I couldn't come. Later on, I worked on a story about him when he was installing the pope piece at Christie's. We started hanging around each other and became friends. Years and years went by, but I always wanted to do a project on him. Eventually, when I heard about what he was doing with the retrospective at the Guggenheim, I knew we had to capture that because it would be the perfect jumping-off point. 

Why was that the catalyst? 
The engineering of that retrospective was so complicated. And the whole thing cost so many millions of dollars, and it took years, and it was so involved and so crazy. I thought it was worthy of a long story. 

What would you say about Maurizio's spirit? His work seems to go from being incredibly fun to extremely sad and dark.
You know, he has highs and lows like everyone else. But he's not someone who hides his feelings. During the course of shooting this doc, I asked Marian Goodman, who brought him into her gallery when he was completely unknown, if he was any happier since he had become so successful. She said, "No!" 

What is your relationship with him now? Like, you two were friends and then you started working on this documentary. How has that impacted the way you two relate? 
That was hard. We went through a long period of time where I was hanging around asking for access to things. I don't think he loved that. There was quite a long time where it didn't do a lot for our friendship. He was irritated by the whole process. But in the end, the movie came out. It's got distribution, and people are watching it. Now we can be friends again. 

It must be stressful doing a doc on someone whom you know personally and you respect? 
Yes. I didn't want to betray his confidence. But I also wanted to tell a true story. It was not an easy line to walk. He hasn't seen the movie, and I don't expect that he will. I don't think he will ever watch it. 

Maurizio Cattelan: All at the Guggenheim Museum in 2012 in Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. Courtesy of Maura Axelrod Productions

So much of his work deals with the fear of failure. Did you feel that fear while you were making this documentary?
I think that part of why his work appealed to me because I can relate to those feelings. I am honestly someone who is never satisfied with my work. When I took on this doc, I took on the responsibility of representing somebody who has already built this incredible career, and I was terrified that I would fuck that up. He made something, and he sort of handed the ability to represent it over to me, and I took that seriously. I was worried it would not rise to the level of what he does.

Where do you think he's at in his career right now? He retired after the retrospective. But then he came back in 2016 with that 18-karat gold toilet that he installed at the Guggenheim, which he titled America. What's his course for the future?
Well, he was always working. He was always doing Toilet Paper stuff. He never ever stops working. I suspect that he will keep making art. Like [curator] Tom Eccles says in the movie, I don't think he knows how to stop. 

Where would you put his work in regards to his peers, and how do you think he'll be viewed in the future? 
I don't know. That is a question that I was trying to get at in the movie. I think that a lot of people don't take his work seriously. There is this whole range of people I was addressing in the movie. Like people who have never heard of contemporary art and don't care anything about it, to people who are in the movie who are the absolute most important experts in art. I felt like I had to address all of those people, but I can't say how it will be one way or the other. I don't know, and I don't think we know. 

Maurizio and Maura. Photo by Balarama Heller/courtesy of Maura Axelrod Productions

Obviously, you think his work is important. 
Yes. I mean, I did this big movie and spent all these years with him. But I don't claim to know anything about art. I was coming to it as a relatively uneducated person on the subject of art. So, we'll see. 

At least it's clear that his stuff is really highly valued today on the art market. In the film, we see his work fetching millions in auctions. 
Yeah, I really wanted to explain that part of it to people. If you talk to my uncle Jerry or something, he'll be like, "What? That cost $10 million? You gotta be kidding me!" It makes no sense to some. I wanted to show that there are a bunch of different reasons why people pay so much for work like Maurizio's. For one thing, they are using it as capsules of wealth, so that it can increase in value. It's also a way to launder money. The whole art market is pretty weird, and also I think it is shady. Prices are fixed, and auctions are rigged. It is not a system that is fair. 

It was weird to see people in the film with some of his most extreme works in their house. 
Yeah. What's weirder is that there are a lot of people who buy it and don't put it in their house. They just put it in a warehouse until they are ready to sell it again. The work becomes this weird little commodity. 

Maurizio Cattelan's America in Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. Courtesy of Maura Axelrod Productions

How does he feel about that—his art becoming a capsule for the wealth of rich people? 
The gallerists don't like that. People who are pure of heart don't like that. But I don't know how he feels about it. You can't say it is wrong or it is bad, because it just is. You have to accept it. I imagine that is his take on it, because he knows what's what. Once you get to a certain point, you have to accept the way things they are. 

Do you think his work with Toilet Paper is born out of an effort to be more egalitarian and break out of that stodgy art market? Everyone can get that magazine or see the work in publications like VICE. 
I do think that he is interested in reaching a wide audience. He's interested in the idea of lots of eyes and the power of that. And I am, too. I think in this world, we all should be. We have the ability to reach so many people.

Obviously, he's pretty notorious for playing with concepts of identity and truth. How and why did you work that into the way the story is told in your film?
You know, Maurizio's work is always super prescient. Like, his toilet was installed before Trump got elected. At the time, some thought naming it America was super heavy handed. But now it is a perfect reflection of the moment we are living.

Maurizio's work has long questioned authenticity and authorship. Now, I think that idea is super relevant because it reflects what everyone is talking about: What is fake news? So, I really liked this idea going in of making a movie where you are not sure what is true. Playing with identity in the film just made sense, because his identity was a problem to be solved from the very beginning. 

The risks we took with this film could be seen as something that is just funny or fun. But like Maurizio's work, you can dig in and try to figure out what it all means. You can look at it many different ways. Your experience coming to it and engaging with it is part of what makes it valuable. 

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Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back will be at the Quad Cinema in New York City until April 27. For ticket info, visit QuadCinema.com.

What’s in Chris Turner’s Trash? Rolling Papers, Incense, and Art Work

Trash Talk is VICE's new interview series where we invade the homes and studios of some of New York's most talented artists and creatives, dig through their garbage, and then ask them really pointed questions about it. 

The first time I saw Chris Turner perform was at an event for Martin Luther King Jr. Day called #MLKNOW. Hosted at the historic Riverside Church, the place where the Civil Rights leader gave his iconic Beyond Vietnam speech, it featured a bevy of well-known celebrities reading radical speeches and performing politically-themed music. But the up-and-coming singer stood out among the A-listers for his unique style. He had a blown out afro, vintage eye frames, and a striking denim trench decorated with images of naked black women. But what really left an impression on me was his uncanny falsetto, which seemed to lift the up audience with every word he crooned. Since that day, I've been obsessed with his music, which transverses genres like jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, and connects them all together through his deeply literate lyrics that veer from the sensual to the socially conscious. 

The artists hails from East Oakland, an area with a tremendous amount of history—it's where the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded. But he attended San Francisco's School of the Arts, taking the notorious Fruitvale BART Station to Daly City everyday. He came up alongside black West Coast creatives like famed Creed director Ryan Coogler. And he moved to New York City in the 2002 to study jazz, embarking on a professional career that's taken him allover the world, singing back up for groups like the Roots and Usher, to writing songs with Prince and Esperanze Spalding, to dropping his own excellent projects: 2012's trippy LOVElife Is a Challenge and 2016's excellent LOVE BOMB cover EP.

Despite the role music plays in his life, what's most precious to him is family. He met his artist wife, who adorns all of his clothes with gorgeous illustrations, while he was studying music at the New School. They've been together since 2004, were married in 2010, and have two beautiful, brilliant kids, with another baby on the way. 

The apartment they share in Inwood Manhattan, a west side neighborhood that sits right above Harlem, is Turner's refuge from the world and fuels a lot of his creativity. Its walls are covered in art by his wife, there are children's toys scattered on the floor, and the aroma of incense with hints of really good weed wafts in the air.  

Most of the space is overrun by his curious kids, but he's also got a private spot for himself, a neat little recording studio that he uses to sketch out ideas for his songs before taking them to the studio. Inside, there are tall KRK speakers, guitars, and microphones mingling with his insane sneaker collection and ash trays filled with roaches from late night recording/smoke sessions. This is where I decided to dive headfirst into Turner's garbage in a effort to know a little more about him and his creative process. Here's what he had to say about the treasures I unearthed.

Greyhound Ticket 

"I took the Greyhound a few days ago. I did a show in Philly at Johnny Brenda's with Killiam Shakespeare, Muhsinah, and Aaron Camper. It was dope. But it was more than just a show. It was with my project "Belvedere," which has been like a three-year process. Belvedere is the name of street where I'm from. It started with Killiam Shakespeare and it grew in to me working with Ben Kane, who mixed D'Angelo's record. It's not cheap finishing up the album because Kane does it all analog to make some of the sickest, most retro sounds. When it's all wrapped up, we're going to get it mastered at Sterling Sound by the dude who did Amy Winehouse's music."


"This is a flier from a concert I did this summer with Eddie Palmieri. He's one of the originators of Latin jazz, a real legend. He put out this classic album in the 70s called Harlem River Drive. He's having me and a whole bunch of other young artists do a new version of that album this year. That's the dope thing about music—I've been able to work with legends like Eddie Palmieri and even Prince before he passed... 

Prince took one of my voice memos and then we made it into a song. It all started while I was on tour with Esperanza Spalding. She heard my memo and sent it to him. He sent back lyrics and then we wrote to it, added lyrics. He came to the studio in Brooklyn and sat next me with crystal cane. The song came out as "We Are America." There's a video of it featuring Janelle Monae and Stevie Wonder. It was a political thing, used to raise awareness about the problems with Guantanamo Bay."


"This is our favorite incense, that's why there's no more of it [laughs]. I like nag champa because it is peaceful. People laugh at me because wherever I go, I bring it with me, along with some echinacea oil. When I burn incense, it definitely makes me feel at home. I also use it to cover up my medical marijuana. I've been burning it since I moved to New York, when I was living in dorms. On our first date, I brought my wife over to my dorm room and I was burning some of this incense and I got written up. I was smoking weed too, but I blamed it all on the incense. Incense is never going away for me. Luckily, no one can tell on me for burning it now."

Grocery Bill

My wife is awesome as far as holding the house down, teaching my kids, and having the house clean, but I get to chef it up for her. I make some really famous salsas—I'm a chips and salsa connoisseur, because it was my favorite snack growing up. As far as cooking, I've never been a red meat or pork guy, because my dad just didn't have us eating it growing up. I guess he ate it all his life and a lot of our family died of high blood pressure. So I've always been very big on poultry, seafood, and veggies. But now we've been trying to cut back on the meat intake in general. We're just trying to eat better. My daughter's the pickiest. It's crazy because my boy, he'll eat all the veggies. But if my daughter sees anything green..."

Stage Plot

"I had a show at SOB's in January and somebody asked me to send them a stage plot, so I drew one up myself. A stage plot is like what you send a venue so they know how your band is set up. It's funny, I tell my kids all the time that I can't draw. But I was just like, 'Fuck it, this is how it looks.' I sent it and the venue was like, 'Oh, cool thanks!'"

Student Loans

"I have a lot of these invoices. I went to two universities. It took me five years to graduate from the New School. I started in 2002 and I almost lost my scholarship. So I took a semester off to go back home and go to San Francisco State to get my grades together. I talk to the bill collectors every now and then. [Laughs] I check in, just to let them know I didn't forget about it. 'It's coming!'"


"This is my daughter's stuff. Actually, I have her drawings tatted on me. She just awesome as far as how she lets her visual art shine. It's funny because before my son was born, she was more vocal. She wasn't as shy when it came to singing. But then, when he popped out, he was so just like, "Ahhhhh!" That she's a little bit shy around people when it comes to that. And drawing became more of a way of her expressing herself. But they both can draw and sing. They're pretty cool."

Rolling Papers

"After being on tour, I roll spliffs Euro-style. Well, I guess mine is the 'Bay/Euro-style,' because I add a little dry lavender seed mixed in with my tobacco and I grind that first for a nice, little blend. Then I add whatever flavor marijuana I have. And that blend has become my thing. Literally, I'll smoke with people and they'll be like, "Wow! The taste!" But because of my wife being pregnant, I'm trying to cut out the tobacco part. So that's the symbol of me throwing it away. [Laughs]"

Newspaper Clipping 

"This is funny. My dad sends me newspaper articles all the time. My dad tries to help me because I wouldn't be singing if it wasn't for him. He quit his job when I was eight—he was a buyer for Macy's—to focus on his own music. So I take his advice and I love it. But I threw this clipping out, because it made me frustrated. I know I have some really good music. If this business was that easy, I would already be on top of things. The beautiful thing is, I get to sing—I had a show two nights this past week. I have shows all throughout New York and I get to teach music at the New School. I get to use my voice to make money, which is awesome. But I'd love to really take it to the next level.

Listen to more music by Chris Turner at his SoundCloud

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I Have a Computer Chip in My Brain That Reads My Thoughts

On Friday, March 24, VICE on HBO will take you inside the exciting world of bionic technology, exploring the cutting edge ways in which humans are integrating computers into their bodies. The writer of this essay, Ian Burkhart, is one of world's foremost pioneers in this realm. Watch Ian's full story on VICE on HBO Friday at 7:30 or 11 PM.   

I've always been fascinated with the promise of computers. Because of that, I make it a point to get the latest and greatest technology. Even as a kid, I was the one in the family who would set up our new electronics and computers. It's this lifelong passion that helped lead me to becoming a pioneer in bionic technology. Right now, I'm the only person on the planet who has a special computer chip implanted in my brain that can read my thoughts and send those signals through a port in my skull out to a computer, which can then send that information back to my body and make my body do stuff.

For the past three years, I've been using this groundbreaking technology, called NeuroLife, to bypass a spinal injury that left me with quadriplegia. Although I'm paralyzed from the chest down, when I'm hooked up to the computer, and the computer is connected to a special sleeve wrapped around my forearm, I can use my hands to pick up and put things down. The technology reanimates my arm and allows me to control it with my mind, similar to the the way I moved before I had my accident.

The accident happened in 2010, during my freshman year at Ohio University in Athens. A few days after my final exams, I headed out to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a brief vacation with my girlfriend at the time and some friends. I remember sitting behind the wheel on the nine-hour drive, thinking about all the fun we were going to have and relishing in the fact that we were going to spend a few days just kicking back and letting our hair down. When we finally arrived, we headed straight for the ocean to enjoy the waves.

I was so excited to be there that I was the first person to get into the water, even though it was pretty cold. I dove headfirst into a wave like I had done a million times before. But this time, the waves pushed me down, and the water below wasn't very deep. I hit my head on a sandbar. Immediately, I knew something was wrong because I couldn't get up out of the water. Thankfully, I wasn't by myself. My friends pulled me onto the shore.

At first, I was really optimistic. I thought that I'd be back doing whatever I wanted in about six weeks. I didn't really get a clear diagnosis until the morning after the accident. But when I did, it was pretty bleak. I was a quadriplegic: They said I could move my arms around a little bit, but I wouldn't be able to do much else. They said I would need help with everything, from getting dressed and eating to drinking or turning on the lights. "This is what it's going to be like for the rest of your life," they told me. That really hit home. But I took it as a challenge. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to get as strong as I could and make my life the best that it could be in spite of my injury.

First, I had to relearn every aspect of my life to adapt to my paralysis. I did outpatient therapy with Ohio State University in Columbus because the campus was only 20 minutes from my parent's house. With support from the doctors there, I was able to start doing more for myself than initially expected. After a lot of work, I could eat on my own, I could control a wheelchair, and I could even drive a car.

But I realized that eventually the therapy that was helping me so much would have to end, due to my insurance. So I had to look for other options. I started asking my doctors, "What are some other ways for me to get therapy and continue getting better?" That led me to doing research studies that would enable me to continue therapy without having to rely on support from my insurance. These studies also exposed me to some of the most advanced technological advances in the world today.

Ohio State University doctors in the midst of a deep-brain implant surgery that is similar to the one Ian went through. Photo by Andrew Cagle

When I started with the NeuroLife research project, the doctors did not tell me the whole story. At first, they told me the study was focused on just using electronic stimulators on my muscles in my forearms. The stimulators were controlled by engineers using computers. I had heard of and even used electric stimulation before in physical therapy. But the system that was created by Battelle Memorial Institute and tested on me at OSU was more advanced than anything I'd seen: It actually allowed the doctors to pick smaller muscle segments they wanted to stimulate, so I could move subtle things like an individual finger, instead of my whole wrist.

Once we were able to see that my muscles could respond to stimulation, they hit me with the "million dollar question." The doctors said the rest of the plan was to take the stimulation system and connect it with a brain implant. With the implant, if I were to think, Open my hand, the computer could stimulate my arm in the right places and make my hand open. I'd be able to control my hand independently with my own mind, despite my injury.

At that point, I was really excited because I thought, OK, I might be able to regain use of my hands again. But the catch was that I'd have to have this sensor surgically implanted into my brain. And then, at the end of the study, I'd have to go through a second surgery to have it removed, because the implant is not designed to function forever. I had to seriously ask myself if this was something practical and reasonable for me to do. The thing that really made up my mind was the fact that I had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help push science and the technology further and possibly help other people out there living with paralysis.

The night before my brain surgery, they had me come into the hospital for some monitoring. I couldn't get any sleep because I was so excited about all the possibilities. I woke up the morning of the procedure and felt like a kid on Christmas. I was sedated during the surgery, so I don't remember much. But the doctors basically cut open my scalp, drilled a hole through my skull, and then placed the electrode on the surface of my brain. After the surgery, they didn't know if I would actually be able to control the system. We had to wait for everything to heal before we could actually plug my brain into the computer.

One of the weird things I had to get used to was having a port sticking out of the top of my head. It's an opening in my skin that goes down through my skull to the top of my brain, so obviously the list of potential problems is really long. Not to mention, it just felt strange. I had a hard time getting to sleep at night and putting on clothes. Just getting comfortable with that extra weight mounted on my head took a bit of time. But now it feels completely normal.

Ian Burkhart's muscle stimulating sleeve. Photo by Andrew Cagle

Once everything was settled and healed, we were able to plug the system in. At first, I was just controlling a virtual hand on a computer screen, not my actual hand. This helped me train and prepare for the real thing. The magic moment came when we finally connected my implant to the stimulator, creating the NeuroLife system. It allowed me to think about a movement, and then the computer would send those signals to my hand so that I could actually move. The first time I controlled my hand with my own brain through the system was mind-blowing. It reassured me that all the risk of the brain surgery was worth it and that the technology we were working on was headed in the right direction. It also motivated me to continue to work harder and harder at learning how to control my body with the system.

I've done a lot of cool stuff with this technology like play Guitar Hero. But the best moment so far was the first day I was able to pick up a bottle, pour the remains of that bottle into a smaller dish, and then pick up a stir stick and stir the contents around. It was huge for me because it was so practical, and I could see firsthand how this technology could really change the lives of paralyzed people. Unfortunately, this technology is still very much in the experimental stage. Although I'd love to have the functionality it provides in my home and everywhere else, I can only hook up to the system in a lab at OSU.

Right now, some of the biggest hurdles this technology faces before being ready for the masses are size, reliability, and convenience. One thing that could shift all of these would be to make the entire system wireless, so you could have a sensor in your brain talking to stimulators placed all over your body—not just your hands, but also your legs and feet.

I see this technology as something that you could use in your everyday life. If you do have a spinal cord injury, with this technology, you wouldn't have to rely on other people to do everything. You could live a more independent life. What we're working on with OSU and Battelle even has the potential to change the lives of people without disabilities. It could go beyond simply restoring functionality but also offering humans abilities they've never had. It's incredible to think that by being part of these studies, I've been on the cutting edge of all of these futuristic possibilities, and I can't wait to see what is yet to come.

Lead photo by Andrew Cagle

As told to Wilbert L. Cooper

Visit Ian Burkhart's website.

Losing All Inhibition at the ‘Dirty Masquerade’

J'ouvert is New York City's most controversial cultural celebration. For one thing, the raucous street masquerade, filled with its writhing, unfettered black bodies, doesn't quite fit in with the matcha-sipping, downward-dogging image of gentrified, white Brooklyn that helps sell overpriced real estate. Not to mention, the parade route for the celebration goes through rival gang territories in the neighborhoods of Flatbush and Crown Heights, giving way to violent clashes. Every year, there are national headlines about shootings, stabbings, and assaults during J'ouvert, which has led New York City officials like former police commissioner William Bratton to characterize it as the city's "most violent cultural event" and New York assemblyman Walter T. Mosley to call for it to be suspended. 

But that's just one shortsighted take on J'ouvert. It's so much more than drunk asses shooting at one another. The street masquerade plays an important role in Brooklyn's Carnival, taking place in the pre-dawn hours of Labor Day as a prelude to the massive West Indian Day Parade. Brought here by West Indian immigrants, J'ouvert's origins lie in the emancipation of enslaved Africans in colonized Trinidad in the 19th century, who used street masquerades to mock and satirize their former masters. Today, J'ouvert brings together more than 200,000 people, who join in the revelry by playing mas (short for masquerade), which consists of donning macabre costumes or covering themselves up in mud and paint and chipping (a sort of marching shuffle) down the street to the sounds of riotous steel pan music. 

Fascinated by all this contention and culture, VICE's Wilbert L. Cooper decided to immerse himself in J'ouvert. In the run up to Labor Day 2016, he met with old-school Trinidadian mas men to learn about its origins and its ability to speak truth to power through its satirical costumes and placards. He talked with local politicians about how they planned to regulate the festival and make it safer than years past. And he connected with the young Caribbean Americans to find out how they were carrying on the tradition and what they thought about the violence the celebration has become known for. After all the talking and intellectualizing, Wilbert realized that the only way he'd ever really understand J'ouvert would be by joining a mas camp and playing himself. 

Watch Wilbert's transformative experience at J'ouvert in VICE's new feature documentary, Brooklyn's Dirty Masquerade:  

Awol Erizku Was Hot Long Before He Photographed Beyoncé’s Baby Bump

A lot of people are talking about Awol Erizku today for good reason. The photographer shot the most-liked Instagam photo of all time: an immediately iconic image of Beyoncé, pregnant with twins, posed in front of a lush floral arrangement. 

This photo was not just viral but important—both for it's arresting beauty and rare universal acclaim—and it's no surprise that Awol did it. VICE has worked with the young photographer for years, and it was always apparent to us that he was bound for greatness. What the world is seeing today on Beyoncé's Instagram and Beyonce.com—where there are more striking and elegant portraits by Awol—is merely the tip of the iceberg.  

From readymade objects to short films to paintings to mixtapes, Awol has been using every medium available to him to bring beauty into this world. His unique vision is always smart, colorful, and rooted in both art history and the African diaspora. We feel very lucky and are immensely proud that Awol has used VICE as a platform in the past to showcase his work. 

Below are some of our favorite Awol Erizku photos that have graced the print pages of VICE magazine and the webpages of VICE.com, typically paired with the words of VICE Senior Editor Wilbert L. Cooper. The photos below were taken from Awol and Wilbert's nostalgia-driven piece on black barbershops, their forward-looking piece on black masculinity, and their contemporary piece on black death and fatherhood