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Meet Jason Rawls—Guest Curator of The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century

by Cincinnati Art Museum


The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century

In the last 50 years, many things have changed in our society. Our collective thoughts on religion, politics, and even culture, have all ebbed and flowed. However, one thing has become a new constant: hip hop. While opinions on hip hop may fluctuate, one thing that is undeniable is the impact it has made on our society. Hip hop cultural aesthetics and music now routinely appear in all facets of modern American life. And quite honestly, why should art be any different?

When I was approached by the Cincinnati Art Museum to site-curate the exhibition, The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century, I immediately thought about what the culture of hip hop meant for so many that came before me. It made me think of the pioneers of the culture, who were faced with limited resources and the devaluing of music and arts education in the school system. With all the chips stacked against them, these young people began to culturally compensate for these shortcomings with the idea of creating something out of nothing. It made me think of the mindset of B-Boys, unable to afford a dance studio, improvising a dance floor with cut up refrigerator cardboard; or even the mentality of hip hop pioneering DJ, Grandmaster Flash, tinkering with turntables to make them do what he needed them to do—not what they were intended to do.

I call this a hip hop mentality: simply problem-solving with innovation when resources are low. It is the idea of using the tools and resources that one has in a manner for which they were not intended to produce desired results. This hip hop mentality was a catalyst for innovation for the early pioneers of hip hop culture. The exhibition reminds us of this idea of a hip hop mentality. The visual representation is magnificent as we appreciate how these artists embody the elements of hip hop in their work as they repurpose everyday materials into seamless works of art.

I am grateful to the entire team at the Cincinnati Art Museum for their tireless efforts to make this exhibition such an incredible experience. I think we have something special on our hands! And we are excited to share it! We invite you to join us in the celebration of this esteemed work and look forward to your visit to The Culture.

The Culture was originally curated by Asma Naeem, the Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art; Gamynne Guillotte, former Chief Education Officer at the Baltimore Museum of Art; Andréa Purnell, Audience Development Manager at the Saint Louis Art Museum; and Hannah Klemm, former Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. The presentation of the exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum was curated by Jason Rawls, EdD. Rawls is an Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University in the Department of African American & African Studies and the School of Music, a DJ himself (aka J. Rawls), an author, and a prolific record producer.