Azikiwe Mohammed: Leroy's Luncheon

Canada is pleased to present Leroy’s Luncheon, its first solo offering with multimedia artist Azikiwe Mohammed. For over a decade, Mohammed has ventured to transcend the parameters of the show as a format, the gallery as a space, and even art as an industry. While his elaborate, immersive approach to the exhibition continues to mutate and evolve, as is often the case for artists deeply dedicated to a singular idea, his work can feel like one, never-ending show.

That idea, in his words, is more a question: “How can an art exhibition give Black and Brown people living in America something they don’t already have, but need?” Mohammed’s investigations into this query have rarely been simply representational, and he prefers not to deal in the slippery transactions of figuration, image, and ownership. Instead, he asks literally— what enduring and meaningful experience can I create for a person who encounters my work? Leroy’s Luncheon takes on this query at an unprecedented scale and complexity, comprising three parts: a cookbook, a television show, and a diner (Leroy’s) which is both an intricate set complete with its own merchandise and a series of real dining experiences, for which the artist himself will cook.

Mohammed’s work—while long concerned with the passage of time, the documentation and dissemination of tradition through memory, and the rituals of daily social interactions like meals—has always been grounded in place, or the lack thereof. The dimensionality of some of the places he has already created for himself and others is perhaps best exemplified by the parafictional town New Davonhaime—which he named by combining the five US cities with the highest density of African American residents (New Orleans, Detroit, Jackson, Birmingham, and Savannah)—as well as the small businesses he has staged for its imagined residents in museums and art fairs all over the country, such as an operational photo studio and thrift store. Leroy’s Diner is likewise a place—functional and interactive, it is designed to fulfill a material need, to evoke and produce feeling, to be remembered.

For those who are not able to visit Leroy’s in person, the TV show and book broaden its accessibility. The series, hosted by the artist, is a humorous spin on the genre imagined for viewers that might not usually watch that space. Lunch with Leroy at Home, for sale at Canada’s book shop, exists to record some of the verbal histories that too often fade in spaces where speaking can become scarce. According to Mohammed, not all the 70+ crowd-sourced contributions to the volume involve food; for him, a recipe is any set of instructions to make something, anything, that one might need. An invitation for an offering to recreate a memory held by one and passed to another.

In preparation for this show, Mohammed frequented diners all over New York City and New Jersey for research purposes, the amalgamation of which informed the intention in Leroy’s Mediterranean-inspired fresco, neon plexiglass stove, faux marble countertop seating, and custom plates, mugs, aprons, and cutlery. Diners are like community rooms, he explains: “A diner is a place you never feel you’re not allowed to be. It’s a place associated with consistency, dependability, and comfort. It’s a place you will likely return to.” Each of these attributes also apply to the art Mohammed so carefully conceives and constructs for an audience he dignifies with the utmost care. These are experiences imagined without requisite or pretension, and places where one need not worry about securing, or overstaying, one’s welcome.

– by Isabel Flower

Azikiwe Mohammed (b. 1983, New York, NY) is a 2005 graduate of Bard College, where he studied photography and fine arts. Mohammed received the Art Matters Grant in 2015, the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant in 2016 and a Rauschenberg Artists Fund Grant in 2021, and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant in 2023. He is an alumnus of Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York and Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey. His work has been reviewed in magazines and publications including Artforum, VICE, I-D, Forbes, BOMB, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Hyperallergic. Mohammed's work has been presented in a number of solo exhibitions including the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia and the Knockdown Center, Maspeth, New York, as well as group exhibitions at MoMa PS1, Queens, New York, MoAD, San Francisco, California, Frac Normandie Caen, Caen, France, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, among others. He lives and works in New York City.