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The show of over a dozen young artists avoids any outright condemnations of hip-hop, which frequently proffers a compromised view of women, particularly black women. Images that have belittled women are deconstructed in a series of multimedia works—photography, performance, sculpture, video, sound—at the CUE Art Foundation. Curated by Katie Cercone, the exhibition won the foundation’s open call for show ideas in 2012.
One video places women in the roles of men in hip hop videos. Their objectifying other female dancers makes the whole process seem like farce. Another piece portrays a woman as a cracked and forlorn doll—not nearly as romantic as her glamourous clothing would suggest.
By embracing hip-hop’s visual language, the show creates a conversation around the portrayal of women in hip hop, not an attack, and makes headway toward reconsidering how women are portrayed in the culture.
For designers, mimicking the devices of the opposition can be a powerful mechanism, one that shouldn’t be lost when we are conveying information that is contrary. It’s an empowering tactic that can be used to reappropriate our images.
For many causes, the device functions as a subtle protest. For example, Alicia Eler argues in Hyperallergic that young girls are using over-exposure online and selfie photos as a way of taking control over their portrayal—one that’s been commoditized for so many acne treatments and push-up bras. In a similar vein, protesting war is often best done by actually showing the real images of war—in all its blood, death and heartache.
Naturally, the practice of appropriating imagery can also be used for ill. Indeed, British Petroleum’s advertising makes the oil company look more like an environmental organization cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico than the company responsible for spilling it there in the first place.
Maybe it’s time for others to take back their images as well.