Portrait Gallery opens first hip-hop exhibit with LL Cool J, Ice T

The International Herald Tribune is reporting that the Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington is running their first ever hip hop exhibit, running from February 8 through March 2, 2008, so if you’re in the area you should go check it out.

The show is titled RECOGNIZE! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture, and for those of you too far away you can check out the online version here.

The Curator who helped put the show together has come to to say that

“This exhibition should not be seen as a comprehensive history of hip hop from the 1970s to today, nor is it really a snapshot of hip hop today,” said Frank Goodyear, a curator who helped organize the exhibit. “What this exhibition is trying to do is recenter hip hop as one of the key cultural achievements of the last 20 to 30 years.

It’s a pretty interesting concept when you think about it. They’ve taken a variety of artists from different mediums and used a mixture of photography, paintings, graf, film, and poetry to try and give you an idea that hip hop is way more than what you see on tv.

This exhibit may do a lot to boost the reputation of hip hop and help it finally achieve the status we all know; it being a legitimate art form.

Goodyear said the gallery didn’t want to “whitewash” over the negative and sometimes violent stereotypes associated with hip hop, but it still wanted to recognize the artists’ positive influences.

I think it’s actually a great thing that they’re not trying to pretend that hip hop is perfect. We all know that there have been tons of trouble in the past, and probably will be in the future. But we’re also all sick of hearing people blame rap and hip hop and video games for all the evils in the world today. Demonizing an art form that has managed to do so much for so many people belittles the contribution it has made to society. The success of graf artists like Banksy, or the success of the Def Poetry Jam, for example.

David Scheinbaum

Krs-One Photographer David Scheinbaum shows some pretty incredible portraits of all kinds of artists. It goes across the whole spectrum, from old school artists like KRS-One, to *ahem* “aritsts” like Pharrell, but gives the viewer a good idea of just how diverse hip hop can be. You can go from the militant looking, balaclava wearing DJ Premier to a peaceful and serene Mos Def in two moves.

Maybe this will finally do something to break down non-hip hop heads perceptions of a monolithic hip hop.

Scheinbaum only started photographing hip hop artists in 2000, after catching a show by Del tha Funkee Homosapien. His experience seems a lot like 4080’s run to the Mos Def show in Ann Arbor, because he was deeply moved by the diversity of the crowd and how effortlessly they all seemed to get along.

It can be a pretty powerful thing, hip hop.

Kehinde Wiley

Wiley is a fairly notable LA-based painter that has a really unique approach to painting hip hop artists.

He paints them in the same style used by ancient royalty and other incredibly notable people. One of his more famous prints depicts LL Cool J in the same style that Rockafeller used.

It’s pretty funny to see these people, but when you look at portraits of Big Daddy Kane and Grandmaster Flash, you have to admit that they probably are the equivalent of royality when it comes to the hip hop world. I probably wouldn’t put LL up there myself, but to each their own.

You may have seen some of Wiley’s work on programs like VH1’s Hip Hop Honors.

Nikki Giovanni

Giovanni is a pretty solid hip hop poet, and though I won’t get too in depth, you can check out one of her poems below.

It’s Not a Just Situation:
Though We Just Can’t Keep Crying About It
(For the Hip Hop Nation
That Brings Us Such Exciting Art)

By Nikki Giovanni

You don’t
Just wake up and brush your teeth and make up your bed
and put on your favorite pair of blue jeans

You don’t
on other evenings
Just sneak away from your sleeping lover
Just to grab a bite of Quik Stop
Just to hop a train

You don’t
Just visit the 24 hour superstore
Just to get a few cans
of spray paint
Just happen to have a case to put them in

You are not
Just out of yellow
So you’ll
Just shadow with grey this time
Just shy of metallic blue you will
Just fill in with electric orange

You are not
Just bored
Or hungry or silly or
Just crying for attention

You are
Just, if there is a
Trying to be an artist

You are
If there is any
Trying to find a way of not
Just surviving but living

You are just
trying to show the beautiful soul of your people
You are just
trying to say “I’m alive”
You are just
determined to be more
than what the powers who
Just hate the idea of you want you to be

You are just
trying to discover the route
of the neo underground railroad
so that your kids can
Just be free

You are just
being a man
You are just realizing
your womanhood
You are just singing and smiling
because you
Just don’t want to cry anymore

You are just
falling in love
because hatred is too hard to bear

You are just
to be the very best you and
You just guess
you better not let anyone take that away

You are just
a person
with a big heart and wonderful talent
That you just
think should be shared

Put a button on it

‘cause suspenders

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