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The Power of Reappropriating Imagery

Rani Molla

published on July 18, 2013 in Design

Michelle Marie Charles, "Explicit and Deleted" video still

Our images are how we present ourselves to the world. Those very images can also be used against us. Goddess Clap Back: Hip Hop Feminism in Art tries to take back the images of women in the genre by both exploring and challenging those representations—and by using the same style and imagery they’re critiquing. In doing so, the exhibition also takes a self-reflective look at hip hop. It portrays and then explodes the images of hypersexuality, conspicuous consumption, drugs and other excess.

Irvin Climaco Morazan, "Death of a Ghettoblaster"

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.

Narcissister, Self-Gratifier (performance). Photo: Kristy Leibowitz

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.

Noelle Lorraine Williams (in collaboration with Stafford Woods), Hijacked The Birth of Mala

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.

Myla Dalbesio, "So High"

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.

Goddess Clap Back: Hip Hop Feminism in Art
CUE Art Foundation
Through Aug. 10