Still Tho exhibition tour with curator, Mark V. Campbell, #StillThoShow
Take a guided tour of Still Tho: Aesthetic Survival in Hip-Hop’s Visual Art with curator, Mark V. Campbell. Still Tho is the latest exhibition in the Canada Council for the Arts’ Âjagemô space at 150 Elgin Street in Ottawa. The exhibition is on display from February 9 to May 23, 2022.
Explore the work of visual artists from across Canada and beyond whose creativity speaks to the lasting impact of hip-hop’s visual art on both Canadian culture and visual aesthetics in our digital age. These works represent a diversity of visual arts practices and media, including graffiti murals, mixed media, and dance videos. Artists in the exhibition include Kalkidan Assefa, Corey Bulpitt, Curly, EGR, Eklipz, Elicser Elliott, Nelson “Dedos” Garcia, Mique Michelle, MissMe, STARE, Mark Stoddart, Mark Valino, and Wizwon. Dancers in Mark Valino’s Moments of Movement: Freestyle Dance series include Marie-Pier Lopes (Zepol Rock), Diana Reyes (Fly Lady Di), Tyrell Black, Ashley (Colours) Perez, and Tafiya B. among others.
Curator, Mark V. Campbell
March 21, 2022
The exhibition is on display from February 9 to May 23, 2022.
This is a celebration of resilience and resistance in hip-hop’s visual art. Despite decades of by-laws and ordinances and the criminalization of graffiti culture, hip-hop and its visual art practices have always found a way to draw outside the lines, to expand and capture the public’s imagination, to capture people’s attention, and always doing it in a way that remains fresh. We’re going to check out how graffiti evolves, how it becomes part of digital illustration, how it becomes part of tattooing practices, and carving and album covers and dancing. Still Tho is about how we preserve and how we grow. Throughout the exhibition, you will find intention; these notions of ephemerality, of preservation, of archiving, of disposability.
Come with me. Let’s go all the way through. This is the Still Tho exhibition.
Curly’s Fantasia 1987 – Hail the Lizard King pays homage to one of Edmonton’s most influential graffiti murals. In the original work, the Lizard King riffs off of Disney’s Fantasia, the movie. You can still see the hands of Mickey Mouse here. You can also see some allusions to ears up there, and you can see some allusions to feet down here. In Curly’s archival practice, what he does is, he counteracts the ephemerality of graffiti, while also honouring the pioneers and the architects that helped build hip-hop culture. This untitled work by Toronto-based artist Elicser Elliott reintroduces and re-remembers an iconic character from the 1980s cartoon, The Transformers. Interestingly enough, this boom box goes missing in the box office adaptation of the cartoon.
What Elicser does for us here is, reminds us of the ways in which hip-hop culture still values obsolete technologies. Commissioned for Northside Hip Hop’s first exhibition more than a decade ago, this untitled piece comments on the role of social memory, re-remembering and the role of the media industries in our forgetting.
For those artists with several decades of experience under their belt, like Corey Bulpitt, here, there exists significant experimentation, influence and intersection with other artistic visual practices. Corey brings together graffiti writing and ancestral carving techniques and draws on his Haida of the Naikun Raven Clan lineage.
In this way, Bulpitt’s work calls to mind both street art and the practices of his great-great-grandfathers, the acclaimed 19th century Haida artist, Charles Edenshaw, and the prolific carver, Louis Collison. In his carving of a spray can, Bulpitt collapses time, bringing an ancient artistic practice into conversation with a much younger form, as it remixes ancient and contemporary visual aesthetics, allowing us to fluidly read across and around temporalities. The can is designed to sound exactly like a spray can, although you cannot shake it in this exhibition.
Extending the power of tagging, Mique Michelle’s Dilo returns to us the Indigenous names for what we today call the Great Lakes. Diverging from graffiti’s deeply urban roots, Mique Michelle urges us to witness the power of naming and renaming. For example, Lake Michigan is returned to us as Michigami, originally named by the Odawa. Mique’s abstraction amplifies for us the bodies of water by using various pastel colours to signify the land: yellow, pink, green and some orange. The mural, as a memorial here, is repurposed in order for us to return to forms of Indigenous knowledge that came before the urban landscapes that make graffiti possible.
In this massive scene, EGR captures the at-times turbulent relationship between street art beautification programs and municipal forces. The Evolution of Graffiti and Revolt is a multilayered piece. Starting at the top here, we see numerous billboard advertisements.
All of this coming in 2011, during the Beautiful City campaign, which was a push to get the city of Toronto to divert the funds that they received from advertising towards artists and arts communities. We move below this visual pollution. We see a wall here. On this wall, what looks to be EGR’s tag, starting to be covered over by white paint, and then we have the public watching this mural go up, what looks to be a legal mural wall going up. We move over to the right, we have a gentleman in a shirt and tie, ironically, erasing graffiti, it looks like a ‘graffiti begone’ kind of anti-graffiti company. We move down another layer. On this piece, we start to see the environmental impact of washing away all of this graffiti by these whitewashing companies.
Videographer Mark Valino’s Moment of Movement series is an interesting take on street dance. Working within various public spaces globally, Valino invites dancers to improvise movements to songs he presents them with.
In the video selected here-- only a small fraction of the series--arrests the viewer’s eye, presenting movement that rewrites one’s relationship to public space. These dances bomb public spaces with various forms of dance--some, such as breakdancing, once outlawed in places like New York City. Valino captures dancers physically rewriting their relationship to subways, a financial district, an abandoned warehouse, an outdoor amusement fair and other places.
When we zero in on Moments of Movement #104, Tafiya, with the backdrop of Toronto and part of Graffiti Alley behind him, amplifies the ways in which public dance can operate as physical form of graffiti, signalling encrypted messages to passers-by.
In this piece by Eklipz called Coltan Kills, Eklipz decides to remix an advertisement for a cell phone company. He gets his tag up on the piece and in behind, inside the lettering of his piece, you see images of young child soldiers, the same soldiers that are also related to the extraction of the coltan mineral from the Congo. This piece reminds us of the intimate connections that these extractive industries have to our cell phone usage in North America. Eklipz’s work really speaks to a generation in hip-hop in which social consciousness, social awareness and knowledge of self were key parts of the culture.
In this piece called S to the T, by Montréal-based graffiti artist STARE, he moves away from some of graffiti’s original forms. Instead, he decides to utilize concrete on top of a piece of canvas in a work meant for a gallery space. In this diptych, STARE’s angular lines gesture towards a more recognizable graph piece, but does not fully arrive at a series of lettering or a name. Instead, we are privy to a portion of a piece that cannot fully represent the whole. Its incompleteness may also be a comment on the inability of a traditional gallery space to contain and fully represent the wild style of graffiti art.
One can see the legacy of graffiti writing in the street artworks of someone like MissMe. In her hijab series, MissMe strikes back at the Quebec government’s attempt to ban head coverings. In a piece called Free Cap, MissMe centres this young woman’s defiant stare at her audience, returning the kinds of gazes that women’s bodies must face in public regularly. In this piece, we see MissMe utilize a double head covering with a baseball-style cap on top of a hijab adorning a face that is refusing to not look at you.
So, thank you for coming on this journey. The Still Tho exhibition is a national exhibition. We have artists from multiple provinces across Canada in the show. But importantly, this show really only skims the surface of a long and rich history of graffiti art and street art in Canada.