“Represent: Hip-Hop Photography,” the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s latest exhibition, is on view through May 3, 2019.
Inspired by DJ’s, MCs, breakdancers and graffiti – the four elements of hip-hop – “Represent” features photographs illustrating the early days of hip-hop and its rapid expansion to a cultural phenomenon in the mid-to-late 1990s. “Photos showing some of hip-hop’s iconic figures and moments are paired alongside other images from the museum’s photography collection to explore how different social movements, historic figures, art, culture and dance have influenced the musical genre,” explains the museum. For example, artist Queen Latifah’s photograph is paired with an image of 1920s blues entertainer Gladys Bentley. The paring illuminates similarities between the two entertainers who often dealt with media speculation on their appearances.
“The pairing of photographs will challenge our visitors to view hip-hop within the context of a long standing tradition of black creative achievement. It also reminds us that hip-hop is based upon rearticulating other arts that are constantly changing over time,” said Rhea Combs, curator of photography and film, and director of the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA), where “Represent” is displayed.
In addition to photographs, the exhibition includes three short film excerpts from pivotal movies that chronicle hip-hop culture. A few objects that further demonstrate hip-hop’s cultural relevance are also on display, including cassette tapes and an original New York City MTA subway door with graffiti tags by some of the city’s most prolific artists.
Hip-hop has its origins in the Bronx, New York. The music and culture promote shared identity, collective memory, and history.