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Fashion and hip-hop on display at St. Louis Art Museum’s ‘The Culture’ exhibition

The 2022 piece “Track Collection” by 38-year-old artist Telfar Clemens.
The 2022 piece “Track Collection,” by 38-year-old artist Telfar Clemens

Tracksuits and kicks are some of the most iconic expressions of hip-hop culture. These fashion items will be on display at the St. Louis Art Museum's upcoming exhibition honoring the 50th anniversary of hip-hop’s birth.

The 2022 acrylic on canvas painting “It was all a dream” by artist Zeh Palito.
Zeh Palito
Simões de Assis and Luce Gallery
The 2022 acrylic on canvas painting “It was all a dream,” by artist Zeh Palito

“The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” is a multimedia exhibition that showcases the depth of hip-hop culture and its influence on contemporary art, including fashion.

Hannah Klemm, former associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum, said the exhibition balances the local roots of hip-hop and the many ways it became a global phenomenon.

“There's nobody in the world these days who doesn't somehow come in contact with something that was influenced by hip-hop. The breadth and depth and reach of hip-hop, I think, became really visible to all of us,” explained Klemm, who is one of four curators of the exhibition that was co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art.

St. Louis has its own hip-hop roots and cultural expressions, said writer and curator Rikki Byrd. Byrd is a former curatorial research fellow with the Baltimore Museum of Art and contributed to “The Culture.” She grew up in St. Louis when Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” music video helped shape the culture of the city.

“It gave us a cultural object, but quite literally a fashion object to unite around, to feel seen around,” Byrd said.

On display in the exhibition is a large sculpture of Air Force 1 shoes made by St. Louis artist Aaron Fowler, a representation of how “big of a moment that was for Black youth in the city during that time,” she said.

When selecting fashion objects, she said she looked for art that showed how deeply fashion and hip-hop are ingrained.

From left: Rikki Byrd and Hannah Klemm
Rikki Byrd, left, and Hannah Klemm

“I was really trying to find a way to identify moments within the past 50 years that continue to reverberate in fashion today,” Byrd said.

The exhibition also features other examples of fashion, including tracksuit looks from Virgil Abloh’s collections for Louis Vuitton, wigs from Lil’ Kim's former hair stylist Dionne Alexander and artwork by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola and John Edmonds, who pay homage to the durag.

Related Events 
What: SLAM block party celebration
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 19
Where: St. Louis Art Museum (One Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110)

What: “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” exhibition
When: Aug.19 through Jan. 1
Where: St. Louis Art Museum (One Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110)

For the full conversation with Hannah Klemm and Rikki Byrd about how “The Culture” showcases hip-hop’s influence on fashion, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

How hip-hop shaped fashion and art culture

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Ulaa Kuziez is a junior studying Journalism and Media at Saint Louis University. She enjoys storytelling and has worked with various student publications. In her free time, you can find her at local parks and libraries with her nephews.