The New School
I took a course called Arts Writing Workshop with Bonnie Marranca in the fall of 2011. In this class I learned how to read, write, and analyze a broad range of commentary on the arts. The focus of the reviews and critical pieces were media, dance, video, and photography with an emphasis on journalistic and literary traditions of arts writing. Here is a writing sample from that class.
Rashaad Newsome and The Conflation of Hip Hop and Heraldry
By: Danielle Small
The most recent example of the disconnect between luxury hip-hop and the common person was when Kanye West attended an Occupy Wall Street protest last month. Cladded in Givenchy threads and a mouth filled with gold, his appearance was the farthest one could get from the OCW message of economic justice. Since its inception, luxury rap and hip-hop culture has promoted grandiose ideals and impossible standards of status, wealth and sex, elevating its rappers egos’ to demi-god paradigms. Visual artist, Rashaad Newsome, pushes hip-hop culture further into the world of fantasy in his collage and multimedia projects, Herald and Swag, at the Marlborough Chelsea gallery. Fueled by his desire to conflate history and modern culture, Newsome is creating an exciting new lexicon by combining hip-hop culture and heraldry (design of coats of arms and badges) and further exploring their common themes of status and visual identification.
Herald centers around Newsome’s large and colorful collages. Framed by intricate gold frames, the images and styles on the frames are just as important as the collages themselves. The frames replace conventional heraldic symbols (knight’s helmets, battle axes and coronets) with hip-hop emblems (gold chains, baseball hats and bling). The collages are headache inducing because it is difficult to completely identify all the images Newsome packs into one collage; but when you get through the headache you see the intent. For one, every collage freely uses repetitive images resulting in kaleidoscopes of bling, roses, rims, women’s legs, Italian cars, weaves and gold teeth. That image repetition mirrors the sound repetition of rap while the packed images that seem to fight each other within each collage is reminiscent of the convergence of the hip-hop and heraldic worlds. Both cultures involve battles and fighting, the only difference was in heraldic times they used swords and in rap they use words.
Swag (which has been described as “part video and part original mix tape”) is displayed on the second floor of the gallery. This portion of the exhibition involves some smaller collages but the highlight is the “Swag the Mix Tape” video projected onto one of the gallery’s white walls. From the short, “Rain is Falling” (where a woman employs the iconic “whip my hair” move set to monk music infused with hip hop beats) to “Painting Opponents Red” (where an afro cladded rap goddess spits lyrics of luxury and couture from her decorated golden throne). Newsome never ceases to break the boundaries of these two cultures, binding them together with the gilded and diamond crusted welder that is his creative freedom.
While Newsome is respectful of herald history (even going as far as attaining the Junior Officer of Arms title and pursing the King of Arms) he is also mimicking it, acknowledging that it is not his and conforming its ideals to what he considers relevant. By juxtaposing the heraldic history and his history he has become a deejay connoisseur of both genres–taking from both cultures the essential and mixing them effortlessly. In both the heraldic world and hip-hop world, being king was and is the ultimate rank. And while Kanye might think he is the king of rap, Newsome is the only one who translates the self- referential and embellished hip-hop swagger into truth and that is something we all can relate to.