From April 12 to June 15, the Robert E. Kennedy Library will showcase an exhibit entitled “Don’t Believe The Hype: The Radical Elements of Hip Hop” in collaboration with the Ethnic Studies Department and the Architecture Department.
The exhibit will feature cohesive, interactive displays encompassing the five radical elements of hip-hop: graffiti writing, breakdancing, deejaying, emceeing and knowledge production. An opening reception will be held April 19, which will consist of live performances by students and regional DJs as well as other opportunities to experience elements of hip-hop.
Behind the Exhibition
Every year, Kennedy Library hosts an exhibit fusing the expertise of a faculty member with student contributions to produce a display Cal Poly students can connect with. These exhibits allow faculty to publish their research and scholarship non-traditionally and collaborate with students. Exhibit and Campus Arts Curator Catherine Trujillo discussed last year’s exhibit, which was centered around incarceration, rehabilitation and art’s unique power to surpass
“Last year, we had a project called ‘Between the Bars;’ it was a scholarship of Dr. Unique Shaw-Smith where it was trying to show rehabilitation can take place in prisons. We brought in the artwork of incarcerated men from the California Men’s Colony just up the road,” Trujillo said.
Other past exhibits also exposed students to a range of topics including “Mars Within Reach: Arctic Melodies and Science from the Red Planet” and “ChismeArte ¡Y Que!: Expanding L.A.’s Chicano Aesthetic.”
“It’s an opportunity for students who are in the library, going to and from class, in a group study, contemplating life quietly, to actually experience and engage with this research that they might not have had the opportunity to engage with before,” Trujillo said.
This year, Trujillo is working with ethnic studies professor Jenell Navarro on the exhibit. Trujillo and Navarro have collaborated to carefully gather a group of student scholars who have backgrounds in the different areas of hip-hop.
These student scholars include sociology and ethnic studies senior Jeremiah Hernandez who will focus on the emcee element of the exhibit, landscape architecture senior Maren Hill, who will focus on the graffiti element, art and design senior John Duch, who will focus on the breakdancing element and industrial engineering senior Logan Kregness, who will focus on the
Along with this team of student scholars, architecture professor Tom di Santo’s architecture seniors will be creating physical structures to represent the various elements of hip-hop. The students have been provided criteria to shape their creations along with an overview by Navarro to educate them on the magnitude of hip-hop’s influence and history. They have been divided into five teams of four that are each responsible for one element of hip-hop.
“Their role in the exhibit is really to bring to life in built formation our conceptual development around the radical elements of hip-hop, and that’s no small task,” Navarro said.
In addition to Trujillo, Navarro, the student scholars and the architecture students, there is a library exhibit team who will also curate the exhibit. This team consists of art and design senior Anna Teiche, who is the art director for the project, art and design senior Tommy Stoeckinger, who is responsible for fabrication, and art and design junior Hannah Travis, who is responsible for photo design.
Hip-hop as an educator
These teams have worked together closely to produce an exhibit that will express how the true essence of hip-hop reaches far beyond music. They reject the misconception of hip-hop as simply music and highlight the social and political consciousness that hip-hop encompasses. Kregness said he hopes the exhibit makes an impact.
“I hope that it makes students think more about what hip-hop really is, above just music. I feel like a lot of people kind of get it skewed. They think that hip-hop is like dope beats and lit concerts and turn-up music and dope rappers and stuff like that, but it’s more than that. It is indeed a culture … I hope they consider the conscious side of it a lot more,” Kregness said. “I’m hoping that the audience of Cal Poly students who like hip-hop just for the music come through and kind of understand why it’s important to black culture and why it really is the people’s culture.”
Navarro explained the exhibit will be immersive, consisting of quotes from artists, texts that explain each element, historical and contemporary photos and original student work from Hip-Hop, Poetics and Politics (ES 310).
Trujillo said there will be moments for both reflection and engagement while experiencing the exhibit. The teams curating this event aim to educate students about the development and many facets of hip-hop, while shedding light on the experiences of communities of people of color.
“For me, if hip-hop isn’t educating, then we’re not really listening, or maybe we’re not listening to the right hip-hop or telling the corrective history of this culture, because it’s an educational tool and that’s its most promising and prospective form,” Navarro said.
The power of hip-hop
Since Cal Poly is the least demographically diverse California State University, projects like “Don’t Believe the Hype: The Radical Elements of Hip-Hop” are important to the community because they showcase art and narratives by people of color.
“We’re trying to diversify in our own way,” Hernandez said. “We’re trying to really bring that inclusion for students of color, especially those with hip-hop backgrounds, those who have had it as a big part of their lives … Hip-hop thrives in communities of color, whether it’s actually practicing the art or just listening to the music and vice versa.”
Hernandez said he hopes if hip-hop is more readily recognized at Cal Poly, it will bring further equity and justice to campus.
Hip-hop holds power in its ability to expedite conversations about things like systemic racism, sexism and socio-economic disparities. The “Don’t Believe the Hype: The Radical Elements of Hip-Hop” exhibit will cultivate these conversations through interactive education.
“I hope that this brings attention to underrepresented voices and viewpoints and challenges sexism and racism … Everyone thinks they’re familiar with hip-hop and what it means and I think that because there is that familiar entry point, it will actually challenge what you do think about hip-hop and scholarship and that pedagogy and breaking down of these ‘isms,’” Trujillo said.
Navarro also said that hip-hop unapologetically calls attention to the misrepresentation and mistreatment of people of color. This ability to spotlight injustices and ignite change is a testament to hip-hop’s power.
“Hip-hop helps uproot those stagnant fixed racialized notions of who we are as people of color, and to take that up by the root through a creative format takes a lot of talent, and it also takes a lot of wherewithal,” Navarro said.“Of course that’s why hip-hop has had a lot of backlash because the stuff that real hip-hop culture is about — the calling out of racism and poverty and police brutality and sexism and those kind of things, those are difficult conversations to have.”
The power of hip-hop, however, does not only stem from its ability to expose realities and spark change through art. Duch said that hip-hop’s power is also rooted in its ability to unite people through
“I come from the b-boy background of it so to me it’s all about community, it’s all about love,” Duch said. “It’s a huge interest that brings so many different backgrounds together just based on one interest. When you go to sessions, jams, competitions you see so many different people, but all of them are interested in breaking or b-boying … Just being able to have that creative freedom, that creative outlet, not having anyone giving parameters of what to do.”
Kregness said he hopes the exhibit is a hit.
“I’d just say to anybody coming through: keep an open mind and consider hip-hop as not just the music,” Kregness said. “It’s much more diverse than people give it credit for, and I’m sure that everybody that comes to this exhibit will truly understand that and get to witness the power of hip-hop.”