Worth Seeing: Rashaad Newsome’s 21st Century Heraldry

E ven though his NYC gallery exhibit closes this week, Rashaad Newsome is a name you’ll want to remember. m4s0n501

@rashaadnewsome

Just putting in the late pass request up front.  Thankfully, I got to see Rashaad Newsome’s excellent show recently, and I encourage you all to do the same.  It will be an inspiration for anyone who’s interested in seeing how a young artist takes his love of hip hop and connects that to other creative and intellectual interests.

I’d only heard of visual artist Rashaad Newsome (above in a photo courtesy of Italian Vogue) thanks to a big profile on him and his work that appeared in the New York Times.  Here’s what the paper had to say about his show:

”Herald” . . . offers up Mr. Newsome’s modern-day take on heraldry, centuries of European tradition mashed up with hip-hop’s latest swagger, like a coat of arms inspired by the young rapper Nicki Minaj. It represents the culmination of several strands of his work: history applied to the juxtaposition of high and pop art; symbols isolated, mixed and re-appropriated; the exploration of African-American culture. And along with a related appearance at Performa, the performance art biennial, where he will present the festival’s first-ever rap battle, it could mark his breakthrough as a young artist. At 31 he is aiming for a contemporary art bull’s-eye, the intersection of the classics and the street.

According to background material for the exhibition

Heraldry is a 900-year-old practice of designing, displaying, describing an recording coats of arms and heraldic badges.  While heraldry began as a means to distinguishing participants in combat when iron and steel helmets hid their faces, today it is illustrative of civic and national pride.  More to the point, it functions primarily as a form of visual identification.

Swaggalicious, 2011

So, the show is Newsome’s ongoing inquiry into the field of heraldry and its relationship to contemporary culture.  And for Newsome, that point of convergence is hip hop.

One thing you can’t help miss is the excellent execution of his ideas.  Most pieces, especially the ones on the first floor of the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea, are large works.  Newsome tends towards collage and due to the size, there is meticulous attention to details, many of which are repeated through each work.  Up close, you can see the hours that went into both the work itself and the frames.  In fact, the frames themselves are modern hip hop-driven updates on ornate, Baroque style.

Newsome also works in video and live performance art, as well.  As part of the recent Performa 11, he organized a rap battle called Tournament.  Extending the heraldry idea, the MC battle was meant to recall a medieval joust, in this case performed by 10 up-and-coming New York lyricists.

An example of his performance art (and not connected to this show) can be seen in this excerpt from Shade Compositions.  Performed in 2009, the piece features a chorus of over 20 black women.  The women were divided into sections as would’ve been the case with an orchestra.  The women performed a score that was made up of sequenced gestures and sounds that were indicative of “shade”.  Take a look:

Newsome shared this with Italian Vogue: “I’m creating this whole new world where I strip things of the stigma of being ghetto and turn them into high art.”

Clearly, he is an artist to watch.  Unfortunately, this particular show is only running through December 3, so try to see it  before it closes.

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Rob Fields is the founder and publisher of Bold As Love Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @robfields.

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