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Performances by Legendary Rappers and Hip Hop Dancers Bring ArtsWestchester’s Urban Art Exhibition to Life

Behind the global art phenomenon that is graffiti today lies an expansive history – from young vandals trying to find their voice in the 1970s to urban art that graces gallery walls as masterpieces. ArtsWestchester will take audiences back to these beginnings of hip hop culture and early practices of graffiti with a series of community and Folk Arts programs related to its current exhibition, From the Streets. The exhibition chronicles the rise of the urban artist from vandal and outlaw to cultural trendsetter.

These upcoming gallery events demonstrate the transformation of this art form and provide a broader cultural context to the exhibiting artworks. A number of these programs are also focused on hip hop as folk art traditions, due to their origins in community-based practices. Folklorist Elena Martinez, who developed three of the programs as part of ArtsWestchester’s Folk Arts program, explains: “The roots of hip hop culture are in the streets and playgrounds of the Bronx in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where Blacks and Latinos would gather for outdoor parties and a DJ would patch his sound system into the power box of a streetlight and play records.”

Graffiti and hip hop were established by new cultural practices and traditions in music, dancing and visuals arts, and were shaped by the diverse community in the Bronx, in response to a time of worsening economic and social issues. These traditions became a collection of shared customs that the community used to express themselves – from “tagging” subway cars to creating memorial walls as a ceremonial reflection of the rising violence in the City.

The From the Streets programs include a variety of documentary screenings, panel discussions and performances. A lively panel discussion with artists and museum professionals will explore the place of graffiti in the global market during “Vandalism vs. Capitalism: What is a Dirtier Word?” (June 12). On the weekend of June 16, ArtsWestchester’s Folk Arts program, which is made possible with the New York State Council on the Art, will examine hip hop traditions with two events: an evening of “Stories and Sounds From Back in the Day,” featuring legendary hip hop rapper Curtis “Grandmaster Caz” Brown and GrandWizzard Theodore, the DJ credited with the “scratching” technique (June 16); and “The Sisterhood of Hip Hop,” during which female hip hop performers and b-girls will discuss how women broke the boundaries of their “male-dominated” art form (June 17). Rounding out the From the Streets events will be a documentary screening of Saving Bansky tells of a misguided art collector’s attempts to save a Banksy painting from destruction (July 14).

All events will take place in ArtsWestchester’s gallery, immersing audiences into the historical trajectory of the captivating artworks that surround them. From the Streets will remain on view through July 15. For more info, visit: artsw.org/fromthestreets.

Upcoming From the Streets Gallery Events:

June 12: Vandalism vs. Capitalism: Which is the Dirtier Word? A lively discussion among artists, gallerists, and museum professionals.

June 16: Stories & Sounds From Back in the Day  Performance and storytelling with legendary DJ Curtis “Grandmaster Caz” and Grand Wizzard Theodore.

June 17: The Sisterhood of Hip-Hop  A lesson in party dances from “back in the day,” a panel discussion with graffiti artists and b-girls, and a DJ and dance performance.

July 14: Saving Banksy  A documentary screening about a misguided art collector’s attempts to save a Banksy painting from destruction and the auction block.

All events take place in ArtsWestchester’s gallery at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains.

From the Streets

ON VIEW through July 15 at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue White Plains, NY

GALLERY HOURS: Tues-Fri 12-5pm, Sat 12-6pm

Group Tours Available in ArtsWestchester’s Gallery

ArtsWestchester encourages groups, schools and organizations to book a private group tour of its current From the Streets exhibition. The show explores the evolution of graffiti and street artists, from vandals to cultural trendsetters. Docent-led tours are available by appointment on Tuesdays through Saturdays in ArtsWestchester’s gallery through July 15. To schedule this art experience, contact Kim McKoy at 914-428-4220 or [email protected].


A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews

First Photo: DJ Perly (photo courtesy of the artist)

Second Photo: GrandWizzard Theodore (photo credit: Joe Conzo Jr.)