WHAT IS HIP HOP FEMINISM?
by Jillian Steinhower
Short answer: it’s awesome. And it’s currently on view at Cue Art Foundation.
Curated by Katie Cercone, the exhibition Goddess Clap Back: Hip-Hop Feminism in Art brings together various artists who, in their work, subvert the tropes of mainstream hip-hop: the unabashed consumerism and celebrity worship, the heteronormativity, the machismo bordering on misogyny. This is hip-hop, queered. The ideas and visuals given form by these artists are not only refreshing — they’re necessary.
That all may sound heady or self-serious or depressing, but some of the best work in the show — including pieces by Kalup Linzy and Rashaad Newsome — has a light touch. One of my favorite finds in this vein was Michelle Marie Charles, who makes videos that would probably be as at home on a website like College Humor (if the humor were more diverse) as they are in a gallery. The two I saw — “Explicit and Deleted” (2012) and “Naturally Nandie” (2013) — are both spoofs, the former of your average hip-hop song and video, the latter of hair tutorial videos.
I’ll admit, a spoof of a hip-hop video filled with women dancing around doesn’t sound all that new; yet given that we live in a day and age when these things are considered acceptable — clever and funny, even! — let’s not underestimate our need for such work. Plus, the greatness of “Explicit and Deleted” (above) isn’t only in the video: it’s in the combination of images and words. Here’s the first line of the chorus: “Girl, I love you so / for all your emotional attributes such as your titties.” Add to that the fact that nearly everyone in the video is cross-dressing; Charles’s crazed face as the leading man surrounded by boobs and booties; the interjection of a 25-second incisive social commentary; and the purposefully low production values, and it all adds up to a pitch-perfect satire.
“Naturally Nandie” is similarly successful, though I suspect fewer people will be familiar with its original subject matter. Charles plays a woman offering a tutorial on how style your hair in an up-do, but about halfway through, things get weird: she starts talking about “interactive” hairstyles and placing war action figures on her head. “I’m gonna add this guy who looks a little bit like Jesus — he looks a little bit like what Jesus would look like if he had weapons,” she says comfortably. Is she improvising or working from a carefully written script? Either way, Naturally Nandie soldiers on unfazed.
Goddess Clap Back: Hip-Hop Feminism in Art continues through August 10 at Cue Art Foundation (137 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).