“Yo, microphone check one-two, what is this?
The Five Foot Assassin with the ruffneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame
No shame in my game cause I’ll always be the same
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have
You want to diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half
I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path
Messing round with this you catch the sizing of em?
I never half step cause I’m not a half stepper
Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper”
Buggin’ Out – A Tribe Called Quest
The month of May is always a busy time for a teacher. The school year is wrapping up, grades are due, and classrooms need to be prepped for summer use. On top of that, the school where I work, puts on an annual art show that features artworks from over six hundred student artists. During this confluence of events and projects, I received an interesting message from the director of the Blind Whino, an event space and arts club in Southwest DC.
Ian Callender, co-founder of the Blind Whino and SW Arts Club, had been playing phone tag with me for about a year. I had participated in two or three thematic exhibitions at the quirky, eclectic, converted church, so I was on his radar. We had yet to click on any substantial level, but when he texted me on May 3rd, I was excited to hear from him. He asked me if I’d like to have a show of my work in the recently renovated Art Annex gallery space. I eagerly agreed, and asked when the show would be planned – “Will it be this summer, or in the fall?” “Tomorrow.” was Ian’s reply. What?! How could I possibly put up a full gallery show with less than twenty-four hours notice. I work tomorrow. I don’t have enough pieces to fill the space. I haven’t had any time to… Wait a minute. I have all of my pieces from my Two Paths show. Most are framed, wired, and ready to hang. I have labels made for every piece, and three out of four of my classes are on a field trip tomorrow. Maybe this is possible. I worriedly replied, “Yes. I’ll do it.” I arranged to miss a day of work, and I raced home to fill my car with my art. Along with blankets, pillows, and all manner of protection, I gingerly placed each piece as strategically as I could. It was important to make the work fit, as I would need to bring everything in one trip. After some rearranging, and a few moments of desperation, I managed to get all of the doors closed. As long as there was room for me, I would be able to navigate my way to DC, early the next morning.
I was so amped to get the work up on the walls, I decided not to wait for any help. Once I got in the building, I was on a mission of efficiency and enthusiasm. I was fortunate to experience a surge of creative adrenaline, and as a result, I put the entire exhibit up by 12:30 pm. I stood back, and marveled at the body of work that served as evidence of my Hip-Hop project. I was overwhelmed. Part obsession, part passion, part research, and part tribute, each of these pieces represent memories, moments of connection, and love for the music of my formative years. As I carefully added labels to each composition, a few people meandered through the space. I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off.
That night, an event was planned. Slowly I began to understand how the space functioned. The walls of the gallery could be adorned with art and thematic work, while the space could be rented out for all kinds of special parties and gatherings. As I was setting up, I met a small group of planners who would be sharing the space. It was their job to construct an incredible experience for a plethora of orthodontists, who were in town for a national conference. They decided on a Star Wars Theme, as it was May 4th – as in – “May the Forth Be With You”. So, there I was, surrounded by classic Hip-Hop imagery, with Eric B. and Rakim’s Microphone Fiend blaring from my speakers, while the team set up a life-size C3PO and a Han Solo frozen in Carbonite. It made for an even stranger scene, when they began erecting a swing made out of large teeth. Evidently, the whole party was being sponsored by a business that was selling an invisible liner for straightening teeth. With any luck, all of the invited orthodontists would become smitten with the new product. I made the decision that I would stick around to see how it all unfolded.
Although the party was a great success, and there were several hundred people in attendance, I was a nervous wreck. People were bumping up against the paintings, using the pedestals for their drinks, and I even spied a lady using one of my matted pieces to fill out her raffle ticket. In my head, I was freaking out. I had to split, before I made a scene. It was their party, after all. Still, before I left, I snapped a few pictures of the crowded gallery, and spotted Chewbacca checking out my George Clinton piece. What a strange scene!
The next morning, I went straight back down to DC. I checked on the work, and I wanted to be there for the official, first day of the show. Although we had not advertised, and the show had been put up without announcement, there was a steady stream of people who came through the space. I was excited and intrigued by the conversations that emerged, and began to formulate a plan for a more formal opening.
Once I settled in, Ian introduced me to Mig Martinez, a photographer and documentary filmmaker. We became fast friends, and Mig generously offered to document the show with his special talents (Go watch his Netflix doc Farewell Ferris Wheel). While we swapped stories about our favorite Hip-Hop, and I demonstrated the interactive elements of my paintings (employing the HP Reveal app), we arranged to meet for a photoshoot and a quick interview. These special connections are the most meaningful aspect of putting up the work.
View the Promo video that Mig and Rebecca Groom put together. – #AnotherMiGVideo
Over the next several weeks, I tried to balance my responsibilities at work, while attempting to be present in the gallery space. The show was to be up for less than a month, and I wanted to make the best of it. I felt so supported, as friends and even people I hadn’t met, sent me messages of encouragement and approval.
At the beginning of the third week of the show, I had an open gallery reception. My goal of having a live DJ, while being surrounded by friends, family, and Hip-Hop artworks was once again realized. DJ RBI came out to spin, and later had me call in to his WPFW show, to talk about the show. Each element added to the richness of the experience. I’m so grateful to Ian, Mig, my friends, family, and the Blind Whino for handing me such a special opportunity. I’ll think back on it often. – AK