Hip-hop in the digital age

Curated by Mark V. Campbell, Still Tho: Aesthetic Survival in Hip-Hop’s Visual Art, an exhibition presented by the Canada Council for the Arts features artwork by 13 cross disciplinary artists from across the country, including from First Nations, Métis, and racialized communities.

Still Tho features the work of visual artists from across Canada and beyond whose creativity speaks to the impact of hip-hop’s visual art on both Canadian culture and visual aesthetics in a digital age.

Although held at the Âjagemô art space in Ottawa, art lovers across the country can access the curated tour of the exhibition online until May 23, 2022.

A bit of hip-hop culture

In his curatorial statement Campbell describes Still Tho as “an ode to the visual artists in Canada who shaped hip-hop culture and its aesthetics. Through their art, they have placed justice front and centre to inspire social change at home and around the world”.

“Still tho”, he says, refers to a common expression in hip-hop culture highlighting the hip-hop artists’ perseverance, overcoming numerous barriers to make art and build community.

EGR Art on Vintage Spray Cans by EGR, 2007, acrylic paint, metal. | Photo courtesy of Brandon Clarida Images Services

Aside from the four foundational elements of hip-hop culture (bboying, djing, emceeing, and aerosol art), says Campbell knowledge of self is for many the fifth foundational element. Knowledge of self as a heightened awareness of self in relation to the oppressive and discriminatory power of social institutions and processes, vibrate throughout the exhibition. Several works explore and take inspiration from the height of knowledge of self in hip-hop from the late-1980s to the mid-1990s.

Spray Can Carving by Corey Bulpitt, 2020, sprayed paint on wood. | Photo courtesy of Brandon Clarida Images Services

While some aspects of hip-hop’s early years in the late-1970s and early-1980s have been well archived, says the curator, visual works from that period were mostly temporary. Artists will often overwrite one another’s graffiti, leaving the natural elements to destroy outdoor murals.

In Still Tho, mixed media works are used to explore how hip-hop’s visual artists have stitched together historical, nostalgic, and archival elements in order to leave a tangible legacy.

These works represent a diversity of visual arts practices and media, including graffiti murals, mixed media, and dance videos. Last but not least, the exhibition highlights the lasting impact of hip-hop’s visual art on both Canadian culture and visual aesthetics in our digital age.

Altogether, these works exemplify how hip-hop’s socially conscious past continues to animate today’s generation of artists for whom justice unequivocally remains central, says Campbell.

About the curator

Mark V. Campbell is the founder of Northside Hip-Hop Archive. A living archive, it is a digital collection of hip-hop history and culture. For two decades in the Toronto hip-hop scene Campbell has been operating from a community engaged praxis as both a DJ and a curator. From 1998 to 2015, he DJ’ed on the Bigger Than Hip-Hop radio show, and in 2010 he launched the Northside Hip-Hop Archive, opening the way to several curatorial jobs, including curating several exhibitions of archival items and artistic works related to Canadian hip-hop, such asThe T-Dot Pioneers Trilogy 2010–2013, Mixtapes: Hip-Hop’s Lost Archive, …Everything Remains Raw: Photographing Toronto Hip-Hop Culture from Analogue to Digital.

The exhibition Still Tho: Aesthetic Survival in Hip-Hop’s Visual Art is inspired by Northside Hip Hop, a digital collection of Canadian hip-hop history and culture. After more than ten years in operation, Northside is turning its focus to the visual aspects of hip-hop culture whose ephemeral and temporary nature often make them difficult to archive. For more information please visit: www.canadacouncil.ca/about/ajagemo/still-tho#gallery

Leave a Reply