(279415)

The shocking murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle two months ago reverberated around the world in less than 48 hours. While the music industry lost a Grammy-nominated artist, and South Los Angeles bid a sad farewell to an activist and mentor, artist Lauren Halsey saw that more work was at hand in memorializing the popular entertainer and favorite son of the Crenshaw Disrtrict.

On April 25, Halsey presented “Prototype Column for the Shaw (RIP the Honorable Ermias Nipsey Hussle Asghedom) I & II at Frieze New York. The work is composed of two 12-foot-high columns (two-feet wide in diameter) featuring hieroglyphic carvings in reference to Hussle’s familiar rap lyrics and the immense popularity of this musical genre not only in South Los Angeles but around the world.

Halsey’s project was selected from more than 100 international applications for the 2019 Frieze Artist Award contest for emerging artists commissioned by the Luma Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit organization that supports the work of independent contemporary artists who delve in a variety of mediums. What is unique about this artwork is that southlanders can expect to see it replicated sometime next year in the Crenshaw District. Halsey is in negotiations with the city of Los Angeles on a proposal that includes plans for a white mausoleum-type structure with seating and planters all covered in her contemporary form of hieroglyphics

“In my dream world, there would be 15 to 20 of these columns, anywhere from 30 feet tall and five to six feet in diameter,” Halsey said. “This would coexist with the permanent structure allowing visitors to move through freely like a corridor.”

Halsey was able work with the Frieze commission to experiment with a new durable industrial plaster that, while admittedly quite difficult to carve, allowed her to learn new techniques of design. Much of her interest in Egyptian hieroglyphs stemmed from her love of the funk groups Parliament-Funkadelic and Earth Wind and Fire who frequently used this form of art on their album covers.

“I’m really happy with results,” Halsey commented, “and now that I have the prototypes, I can share this with more fabricators around the country.”

Halsey, a Los Angeles native, is very familiar with the Crenshaw District. She was a huge fan of Hussle’s music which capitalized on a blend of driving rhythms and searing social commentary not always common in the rap industry. She said she specifically selected the use of hieroglyphics because of the historic beauty and inherent message of ancient Black society.

Halsey’s work lies primarily at the intersection of art, architecture, fantasy and community engagement. Her artwork—replete with immersive installations and site-specific projects—pay homage to the people and places that, she says, are important to her and which address the social justice issues which people of color, the LGBT community, and the working class are most concerned. Her fascination with ancient Egypt can be readily seen in practically all of her projects.

“It is the record of the pharaohs,” she said, “and I wanted to remix it into contemporary neighborhood poetics and news to describe this moment for people.”

Originally, Halsey showed her initial experiments with carving on gypsum panels and painting colorful portraits on the columns at the Studio Museum in Harlem, N.Y. in 2015. She is a former artist in residence at that facility. It was there that she found the connection between the aforementioned funk music bands when she would stroll the community and notice vendors on 125th Street selling scale models of Pharaonic architecture. That led her to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she studied actual ruins from ancient Egypt, specifically the many paintings and reliefs.

Halsey contributed another architectural prototype last year to the Hammer Museum’s biennial “made in L.A.” exhibit. In this instance, her work was installed on the building’s terrace where visitors entered a large, open-air pavilion of carved gypsum panels reminiscent of both Egyptian and Modernist structures. Halsey designed the exhibit to encourage visitors “think through” and respond to the questions of access and/or practicalities of her future South L.A monument and how it might function in a public space.

Halsey is scheduled to have her first local exhibition early next year at the David Kordansky Gallery in West L.A. She asked the officials there to contribute the proceeds from the eventual sale of her Frieze commission to a worker’s center in South L.A. Halsey also wants to employ carpenters and apprentices at the Kordansky Gallery after she receives approval from the city for her civic art proposal in the Crenshaw District.

“It’s really a small alternative development project,” Halsey said.

Since the 1950s, generations of the Halsey family have resided in South L.A. She has used that experience extensively in her presentations. At MOCA Grand Avenue, she created “We’re still here, there” as an engrossing installation, composed of intertwining caves framed with free-form architecture. Rugs featured animal prints. There were Ankh symbols, and a black panther lined the floor while a series of objects and vignettes wee placed throughout the environment in serving as a “visionary archive reflecting the diversity of the everyday Black cultural experience,” she explained. “I’d liken it to a ‘maximalist South Central paradise.’”

In time, Halsey plans to open the doors to her new Los Angeles studio for a six-month period and invite the public to “carve” their own stories on the panels of her unique architectural structures, or at the very least contribute some images for other artists to incorporate into their designs.

“I want this to be a collaboration with me and the people within the neighborhood,” Halsey said. “We’re all authoring narratives around what it means to be alive now.”