Written by 9:34 Frankfurt Life

From the Bronx to a global phenomenon

The Schirn in Frankfurt is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop with the interdisciplinary exhibition “THE CULTURE”. “Empowerment” and “Entertainment” describe the range of themes on the one hand; visual and performing arts, fashion, music and technology describe the diversity of techniques on the other. Frankfurt is the only European station of a loud, colourful and unusual exhibition developed by museums in Baltimore and Saint Louis.

For the director of the Schirn Kunsthalle, Sebastian Baden, hip-hop is a revolutionary youth culture that has remained young and does not age; for curator Andréa Purnell from the Saint Louis Art Museum, it is still a baby, but one that is increasingly permeating contemporary culture in the 21st century.

Hip-hop emerged in the 1970s in New York’s Bronx neighbourhood as a subculture among black and Latin American youth. Its forms of expression included MC- ing or rapping, DJ-ing, graffiti writing and breakdancing. Over the last fifty years, these artistic practices have established themselves as new forms of expression by criticising, celebrating or rejecting prevailing structures.

The term “The Culture” originates from the black diaspora culture, which has largely defined itself against the dominance of the white majority society. Hip-hop has deeply characterised “The Culture”. In European or Western-influenced culture and its understanding of aesthetics, values and traditions, there is only a gradual opening to the programme of hip-hop.

Pose, Brand, Jewellery, Tribute, Rise, Language

Based on six themes, the works in the exhibition attempt to visualise the points at which culture and “The Culture” meet: Pose, Brand, Jewellery, Tribute, Rise, Language.

“Pose” celebrates how hip-hop expresses itself through the body and its movements. “Brand” highlights the icons that have emerged from hip-hop and the promise of success. “Jewellery” challenges white notions of taste and contrasts them with alternative images of beauty, while “Tribute” points to the visual canon in hip-hop and its evolution. “Rise” explores mortality, spirituality and transcendence. “Language”, whether in words, music or graffiti, explores the subversive strategies of hip-hop. The works make it clear how infinitely imaginative and multi-layered hip-hop is.

Hank Willis Thomas, for example, has turned a rapper’s teeth into a political statement with the words “Black Power”. Alvaro Barrington has sewn the text “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor” onto brightly coloured burlap, referring to a song by Tupac Shakura about the ongoing struggle of black people against racism, sexism and marginalisation. Michael Vasquez shows three men in front of a picket fence making gang hand signs and boastfully showing off their chain jewellery. Roberto Lugo has created a large “street shrine” with a painted image of The Notoriuous B.I.G. in glazed ceramic.

Jean-Michel Basquiat dedicates a large-format painting to the famous saxophonist Lester Young, attempting to reshape the narrative of African-American culture while positioning himself as a contributor to its great legacy.

In the style of graffiti, Gajin Fujita depicts a Japanese samurai on his horse riding into battle, framed by a multitude of graffiti tags. The helmet is adorned with golden antlers bearing the logo of a baseball club. “Cloudburst” is the name of a work by Devan Shimoyama, in which boots, rhinestones and silk flowers hang from a chain from the ceiling.

Virgil Abloh has designed a “Look 15” collection for Louis Vuitton – as have other artists for other fashion brands. Abloh interprets the tracksuit as an airy silk construction with glittering jewellery, highlighting the importance of this garment with its endless variation possibilities for hip-hop.

Hair stylist Dionee Alexander has (re)created some colourful wigs with luxury brand logos, which she originally made for rapper Lil’ Kim in the early 2000s. The poster motif for Monica Igekwu’s show shows a young black woman in a red aviator jacket on a red background in two self-confident poses – “open” and “closed”, created in 2021.

Frankfurt as the centre of hip-hop in Germany

Many of the works were created during the preparatory phase of the exhibition, which was organised by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Saint Louis Art Museum in collaboration with a network of community, art and science.

Director Sebastian Baden emphasised at the opening that the Schirn was predestined for the exhibition because Frankfurt was the birthplace of hip-hop in Germany. Curator Andréa Purnell sees the exhibition as an opportunity for the public in Germany to get to know a life and a culture that they themselves will never experience in their everyday lives.

The exhibition “THE CULTURE. Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” is sponsored in Frankfurt by the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain with additional support from the Deutsche Börse Group and Lufthansa Cargo as logistics partner. After stops in Baltimore and Saint Louis, it will be shown in Cincinnati and Toronto.

An extensive supporting programme

The exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Römerberg, is open until 26 May 2024, Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm (Wednesdays and Thursdays until 10 pm), including public holidays. The exhibition at the Schirn will be continued at the Kunstverein Familie Montez with the video installation “ISDN” by Stan Douglas and extended by an exhibition on milestones of hip-hop at the MOMEM Museum of Modern Electronic Museum, a film series on the 50-year history of hip-hop at the Deutsches Filmmuseum and an event at the Diamant Offenbach: Museum of Urban Culture. You can find more information here.

Text und Photos: Dr. Wolfgang Gerhardt

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