Meet the 2019 Biennial Artist: Kota Ezawa

July 3, 2019

In the lead-up to the Whitney Biennial 2019, we visited five artists in their studios to learn more about their work. The fourth episode of the series features Kota Ezawa at his studio in Oakland, California. For the Biennial, Ezawa created a two-minute animation called “National Anthem,” which depicts NFL football players taking a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest police violence against unarmed Black men. The practice was started in 2016 by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As a naturalized US citizen and the son of a Japanese immigrant to Germany, Ezawa says the protests made him feel very connected to the US. 

To make “National Anthem,” Ezawa repurposed footage of multiple NFL teams, using it as the basis for meticulous, small-scale watercolor paintings that he then turned into the frames of the animation. “I really like the word ‘translating’ to describe what I’m doing,” he says. “The game is to take something from the world of camera-recorded images and make it kind of a plausible animated image.”