Oakland Museum’s ‘RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom’ Exhibit Offers A Step Into America’s Most Coveted Culture

The pockets of our black and brown communities have felt this truth for quite some time now, but in 2017, hip-hop was officially dubbed the most popular music genre for the first time in U.S. history. It’s only right that the culture be fittingly commemorated with a display of collected fine art. Oakland Museum of California took on the task with their new exhibit, RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom.

According to OMCA’s Senior Curator of Art, René de Guzman, the new installation—which is open to the public from March 24 until August 12—seeks to not only honor the multifaceted nature of the Bronx-bred culture, but also shine a light on the contributions that have been brewing right at home in the Bay Area. “There will be a large section devoted to Bay Area stories called ‘The Town,'” de Guzman says weeks before RESPECT hosted its grand opening on Oak Street. “We’re working with a lot of local people, photographers, who will be talking about the Bay Area, and dancers and contemporary artists who are documenting what’s going on now.”

De Guzman worked in tandem with Adisa Banjoko, a hip-hop writer and founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and other curators to bring in top-notch consultants and contributors to make the undertaking one to remember. “We’re working with Eric Arnold, who’s an early hip-hop writer in the area and basically started creating this map of the Bay Area and the significance of certain parts and certain buildings of the moment. He uses it as a sort of hip-hop atlas of the Bay Area,” he continues. Fashion specialist/artist Susan Barrett, deep-rooted journalist Davey D, choreographer/photographer Traci Bartlow, hip-hop artists Maddy “MADLines” Clifford and Mandolyn “Mystic” Ludlum and several more were among some of those tapped resources.

From #TBT photographs and giant graffiti panels to low riders and video/audio montages, the expansive exhibit features works from all sides of the hip-hop spectrum. There are images from documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz, larger than life garments from Nick Cave, illustrations from the legendary Chuck D, Kehinde Wiley artwork, as well as commissioned installations from Oaklanders like Eric Arnold, photographer Brittani “BrittSense” Sensabaugh, and Norman “Vogue” Chuck (of Oakland’s TDK graffiti crew).

The exhibit was designed to not only be visually stimulating, but highly interactive. There are listening stations where a variety of people talk about creative range, giving back to the community and bettering oneself through key ideas in hip-hop, as well as opportunities for visitors to learn about writing, deejaying and graffiti. And don’t forget about the immersive videos. “There’s a DJ by the name of Mike Relm who does video mixes for movies like Iron Man. He does studio remixes. For the project, he did an immersive video environment where it’s a 41-minute megamix, and the video is quite remarkable,” de Guzman says. Special bleacher areas in the gallery double as an informal rest or playground environment, which will also be used for live public programs like cipher Sundays.

According to de Guzman, the hope is that visiting crowds contain guests of all ages, with both fans of the genre and “people who don’t consider themselves hip-hop people.” The beauty is realizing the things that subtly connect us within the culture. “But then they recognize from the show how hip-hop is a part of their lives and how they’re better for it,” de Guzman continues. “That’s one of the things that hip-hop has created: a platform for diversity and to come together as parts of origins stories. Since the very beginning, we have been telling stories how hip-hop was inclusive because they’ve come out of the genius of the African American experience and also for Latinos, Asians and Europeans to share cultures together. I think that explains why it’s a global force.”

During the exhibit’s packed grand opening, BrittSense and Vogue took time out to speak in greater detail about their contribution to the exhibit, as well as what the driving forces behind their art forms are.