Jessica Hunter-Larson, the curator of the IDEA Space (Interdisciplinary Experimental Arts) at Cornerstone Arts Center, commented on the gallery’s newest exhibit as a Latin hip-hop track with a jazzy beat thumped overhead.
“This is the kind of exhibit I hope people can come into as outsiders,” Hunter-Larson said. “[It’s an example of] what happens when this rogue form of artwork becomes accepted.”
. The rogue form of artwork is hip-hop. The IDEA space is currently hosting Rhythm Nations: Transnational Hip Hop in the Gallery, in the Street, and on the Stage. The exhibit combines a diverse set of work by four artists: Ruben Aguirre, iROZEALb, Jaque Frajua, and Kelly Monico.
“There’s a huge gambit here,” Hunter-Larson said of the artists. While all of the artists started out as illegal street writers, a few went on to get degrees (iROZEALb has an MFA from Yale University School of Art), and one (Kelly Monico) teaches art. The variety creates a unique buzz in the gallery. Hunter-Larson calls it the culturally flexible language of hip-hop. That flexibility is exactly what the exhibit is all about.
Just talking about hip-hop in academic terms like “cultural flexibility” is a relatively recent development that exemplifies the adaptability of the art form.
“There was a time we couldn’t use those words [hip-hop and academic] in the same sentence.” Now, artists like Kelly Monaco, who is also a social scientist, are seriously exploring things like Nicki Minaj lyrics and turning them into stunning visual experiences.
In her piece Bitches n’ Hoes, Monaco takes a critical eye to the female rapper’s song “Stupid Hoe.” Viewers can watch as specific shapes, each coded to either a derogatory or empowering lyric, pop up on a TV screen as the song plays.
The piece grows into a spiraling swirl of colored shapes spewing from a central spot on the screen. Watching it unfold is like watching a time-lapse of an expert painter, only the whole production is dictated by the music. The end result is a pattern of shapes that reflects the complications of gender relations in hip-hop language.
Then there’s Ruben Aguirre’s work, hung on the opposite wall. His paintings employ sweeping orange, blue, and brown curves. The earthy tones on wood panels and canvas have a native feel and stand in sharp contrast to Monaco’s mixed-media work. In addition to his framed pieces, Aguirre also painted a mural in Cornerstone, just outside the gallery.
“He did that freehand,” Hunter-Larson said, having enjoyed the privilege of watching the process firsthand. “I was astonished. It’s thrilling to watch someone express themselves.”
Jaque Fragua’s wall is full of smaller canvasses and spray paint on wood, with words and images that radiate issues of social justice.
“We serve Redskins only. No Whites or Anglos,” one of the pieces reads. For Fragua, Hunter-Larson writes, graffiti has its roots as petroglyphs, rather than street corners in New York. That’s why his work, while taking advantage of the illicit graffiti form tagging, also reflects traditional Native art forms.
Multiculturalism also looms large in iROZEALb’s work. She combines African American hip-hop with Japanese art and performance to create vivid pieces like “The Oobie Kids,” an acrylic and ink on paper that features women with dreadlocked hair, furry boots, and booty shorts who also have distinctly Japanese features as portrayed in their skin tone, eye shape, and expression.
“I think people have really enjoyed it,” Hunter-Larson said. “CC understands the value of arts and liberal arts. The arts are a way of understanding everything that you’re learning here, studying as undergrads.”
Indeed, if the liberal arts embody variety and an inclination to take academia a few steps out of the box, the Rhythm Nations exhibit is on target.
The exhibit is open from 1 until 7p.m. on weekdays, and will be in the IDEA Space until May 8.