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Hip-hop hooray — St. Louis Art Museum launches hip-hop exhibition with block party

El Franco Lee II's 2008 work "DJ Screw in Heaven" is part of wide-ranging exhibition "The Culture: Hip Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century" at St. Louis Art Museum.
El Franco Lee II
El Franco Lee II's 2008 work "DJ Screw in Heaven" is part of wide-ranging exhibition "The Culture: Hip Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century" at the St. Louis Art Museum.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Bronx block party hosted by siblings Cindy Campbell and DJ Kool Herc that hip-hop historians consider the birth of the musical genre.

The St. Louis Art Museum is throwing a block party of its own Saturday to open a major exhibition on the global influence of hip-hop and the culture it’s spawned.

The Culture: Hip Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” is a collaboration between SLAM and the Baltimore Museum of Art, which hosted the show earlier this year. After its run at SLAM ends on Jan. 1, the exhibition will travel to museums in Germany, Ontario and Cincinnati.

Curators worked with a 20-person panel of visual artists, rappers, scholars and other experts to assemble the wide-ranging exhibition. The panel included St. Louis multidisciplinary artist Damon Davis and rapper-activist-educator Tef Poe.

“As art museums, we did not presume that we have all of the knowledge we needed to produce an exhibition on hip-hop. The curatorial team started from a deep respect and understanding of how hip-hop grew from local, grassroots, community engagement,” SLAM DirectorMin Jung Kim told a group of artists and reporters this week. “Our aim was to speak to as many people as possible, and truly to listen.”

The exhibition’s 130 items include paintings, photographs, videos, music, sculpture and multimedia installations.

Saturday’s event will include performances by Beat Street DJs, DJ Charlie Chan and other turntablists, plus The Trap, featuring Blvck Spvde and Tef Poe. The kid-friendly event will also include dance battles and hair styling demonstrations.

Artists in the exhibition who have lived and worked in St. Louis include Davis, Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola, Jen Everett, Aaron Fowler, Kahlil Robert Irving, Shabez Jamal, Yvonne Osei and Adrian Octavius Walker.

“It was important that we brought in St. Louis voices and Baltimore artists. An opportunity for our city to stand up and shine is seen throughout,” said Andréa Purnell, co-curator of the exhibition and SLAM’s audience development manager.

A robust schedule of associated events is scheduled throughout the exhibition’s four-month run. They include an Aug. 26 turntablism workshop at St. Louis County Library Natural Bridge Branch, an exhibition open house for educators on Sept. 9 and a rap and beat-making residency for teens at UrbArts that will culminate in a showcase on Sept. 30.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.