‘Hip Hop: Conscious, Unconscious’. An epic exhibition tracing the evolution of the Rap aesthetic from the past to the present.
Sacha Jenkins and Sally Berman are the co-curators of one of the most anthological and important exhibitions on Hip-Hop culture of the last two decades. “Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious” at Fotografiska in New York traces fifty years of Rap’s aesthetic evolution, from 1972 to 2022; visually stunning portraits of the genre’s biggest stars, immortalized by the greatest portrait photographers of the era.
A lot of time has passed since that party in the basement of a West Bronx apartment building in 1973 that gave birth to the genre and the legendary cultural phenomenon, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The Rap message, aesthetics and artists have evolved, changing stylistic codes, language and attitude, until today. The exhibition makes an ecstatic and lively exploration of the indispensable role Hip Hop has played in global pop culture, bearing witness to this passing of the baton through the years.
The exhibition features both famous and rare portraits of the stars and pioneers who made Rap history: from the iconic black-and-white portrait of Biggie smoking a blunt, taken by Geoffroy de Boismenu, to 1970s photos of Bronx gang members, taken by Jean-Pierre Laffont. Also, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill of the Fugees immortalized on the set of the Vocab video; Mary J. Blige in her early twenties, smiling shyly.
Below, find four iconic images from the show explained by co-curator Sacha Jenkins.
Tupac in straitjacket photographed by Shawn Mortensen – 1993
While shooting for the cover of Vibe Magazine; a fairly new magazine with a more R&B than Hip Hop vibe; someone came up with the idea of putting 2Pac in a straitjacket, thus immortalizing him with his back to the camera.
The cover got worldwide exposure and everyone, from the news to public opinion, wondered if this young, talented, fledgling Hip Hop artist was really crazy.
Missy Elliot photographed by Christian Witkin for Spin Magazine – 1998
Missy Elliott‘s 1998 photograph represents one of the most faithful images of the artist. Intent on chewing a Chewing Gum, she is shown as a strong woman, in control, malleable and ironic, able to make herself respected, bringing a lot of playfulness to the hip hop industry.
Kendrick Lamar photographed by Chris Buck for the cover of Mass Appeal – 2015
The Chris Buck shot of Lamar is more of an homage: there is a very similar photo taken of Mick Jagger in the same pose. It mainly expresses the fact that the artist is a skilled lyricist and very sharp, almost edgy.
Tyler, the Creator photographed by Campbell Addy for WSJ Magazine – 2022.
In the shot, Tyler the Creator posed almost hidden under his jacket: a theme that the artist often talks about in his lyrics: hiding behind pseudonyms, concealing one’s identity.
Yet in this shot, Tyler was free to choose how he wanted to be portrayed, what pose he assumed: an unusual and almost rare autonomy for rappers of the 1980s and 1990s.