Born on April 8, 1965 in Los Angeles, California, Erika Cosby is the oldest of five children born to Bill Cosby and Camille Cosby (née Hanks). All five of the siblings' names began with E, for "excellence." Erika has three younger sisters: Erinn (born in 1966), Ensa (born in 1973), and Evin (born on Erika's birthday in 1976). She had a younger brother, Ennis (born in 1969), who was murdered in 1997 in a botched robbery, which brought a tremendous outpouring of support from the public for the grieving Cosby family.
Along with her mother, Erika Cosby would travel around the world as a child with her father when his work took him out of the country. At just four months old, she took a trip to Japan with her parents and grandmother. In 1966, 16-month-old Erika posed with her parents for the cover of Ebony magazine, but the Cosbys tried to give their children a normal upbringing. Bill Cosby was very intent on teaching his children fiscal responsibility; when Erika was 12, he brought her to some of his concerts to explain what he did for a living, even showing her box office receipts and how he calculated the gross and net from each show. He stated that he did not want his children to think that his life in show business involved any kind of "magic", but came from him as an artist who created his own work.
When Cosby got his own sitcom, The Cosby Show, he based it on his real life, by playing Cliff Huxtable, a man with four daughters and one son. The eldest daughter on the show, Sondra (played by Sabrina Le Beauf), was based on Erika. When Erika went away to college, the character Sondra also went away to college on the show. At one point, Le Beauf had to remind Bill Cosby that she was around and needed more screen time; he apologized, and explained that he associated Sondra so much with Erika that in his mind she was also away at college.
After high school, Erika attended Wesleyan University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987. After Wesleyan, she attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1989. Cosby then attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1991 with a Masters of Fine Arts.
Following the completion of her MFA, Cosby attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine for a nine-week summer residency course.
David C. Driskell wrote that Cosby's artwork "concentrates on image perception, especially the media's debasing stereotypes that alter the realistic qualities of people through negative representation... Through the use of satire, metaphor, and allegory, her work examines the intent and the effect of these distorted images on African American culture." She focuses on abstract pieces.
Cosby was the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting. From 2009-2010, she was an artist in residence at the Abrons Arts Center, and was awarded a studio grant from The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in 2011.
During 2012 and 2013, Cosby worked as an adjunct art professor at New York University along with Huma Bhabha, Dike Blair, Wayne Koestenbaum and others.
One of her pieces, called Hanging Out To Dry, was shown at the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in 2014. The painting was a large, bright, impressionist work. Cosby explained the painting with, "The positioning of the dolls hanging from a clothesline, in an upside-down trajectory as they are suspended in perpetuity, suggests an uncertain future status. The expressionistic paint rendering and predominant use of red are a visceral interpretation of the persistent and relentless distortion of black imagery in our culture." The gala was attended by her parents, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and James Staton, among others.
Works by Cosby have been featured in many galleries, including SALTWORKS Contemporary Art, the Arlington Arts Center, Slate Gallery, Artspace in New Haven, the Allegra LaViola Gallery, and The Last Brucennial.
Cosby is a benefactor of the summer institute for A Long Walk Home, an art-based sexual assault awareness program in Chicago, Illinois.