Last January, Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum performed at Colorado College. His set list featured a song called "#SYRIA," an explanation of the civil war there that began in early 2011. (See "Arab springboard," Audiofile, Jan. 16, 2013.) After the concert, Offendum spoke with CC I.D.E.A. Space curator Jessica Hunter Larsen and instructor and playwright Idris Goodwin about hip-hop as an international language.
After Offendum left, his words hung around, and now the I.D.E.A. Space is hosting an exhibition of hip-hop art, Rhythm Nations: Transnational Hip Hop in the Gallery, in the Street, and on the Stage.
Bringing hip-hop art into the gallery might sound like a corruption of the inner city aesthetic ascribed to the style, but history disagrees. The first hip-hop exhibition was in 1981, in New York City at the Fun Gallery. According to Hunter Larsen, hip-hop has weaved in and out of high style ever since. And it's way more than what the casual listener might pick up.
"There's so many more modes of expression in hip-hop and so many ways hip-hop is being utilized across the world," exhibit co-curator Goodwin says. "Yeah, Jay Z is definitely hip-hop, but so is this fine artist, and so is this dancer, and so is this filmmaker ... and so is this community organizer. They're Jay Zs of their theater."
The exhibition will feature four gallery artists, one of whom is 34-year-old Chicagoan Ruben Aguirre. A former street graffiti artist, he takes the language out of tagging and presents it as pure abstraction. He'll paint a (temporary) mural inside the Cornerstone Arts Center, near the door to the I.D.E.A. Space.
"His work is really gestural," Hunter Larsen says. "You can see the motion of writing ... but the letters are gone."
Much like Offendum uses hip-hop to examine Syria, Jaque Fragua, 28, uses it to explore his Native American identity. Hailing from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, Fragua focuses on the dilution of Native culture into a roadside casino commodity, as seen throughout the Southwest. To capture his culture, he uses a little bit of everything: paint, graphic design, found objects and more in visual art, as well as music and poetry. Fragua will paint a permanent mural on the Whitney Electric building, near Wooglin's Deli.
There will also be a series of other events, including a screening of the original hip-hop documentary Style Wars, as well as live performances, including local group The ReMINDers and Rhythm Nations artist iROZEALb.
"I wanted [Rhythm Nations] to be more than just a gallery show," Goodwin says. "We wanted it to be more like a festival. [Hip-hop] comes from the block parties. It comes from people dancing and music and a live atmosphere."