Ask somebody for his perception of the hip-hop culture, and you might hear an answer involving materialism, drugs, drinking, violence and misogyny.
Hip-hop is at the heart of the new exhibit "Rhythm Nations: Transnational Hip Hop in the Gallery, in the Street, and on the Stage," which opens in the I.D.E.A. Space at Colorado College on Monday.
There'll be many moving parts to the multidiscipline event, which runs through April, including an art exhibit featuring four graffiti and street artists who have brought their art off the street and into the gallery, as well as discussions, a film documentary, concert and cabaret.
"I hope it challenges some of the preconceived ideas of what hip-hop is: that it would be predominantly urban; that it's ego-driven and not particularly responsive to social issues," says Jessica Hunter-Larsen, curator of the interdisciplinary arts program at Colorado College. "So many of these artists are so concerned with issues of social justice."
Ruben Aguirre is one of them. The Chicago-based graffiti artist's work consists of large-scale abstract paintings and site-specific murals. He fell in love with the art form 20 years ago in the graffiti-covered freight yards of Chicago, he says, and believes the street art is directly tied to the hip-hop culture.
"There was an energy to it that spoke to me," he says. "It was something I'd never seen before, and I didn't see it anywhere else. There was a mysterious nostalgia to it. It's an interesting thing in that it speaks to young people. I'm a testament to that."
He arrived in town this week to paint a mural inside the Cornerstone Arts Building on the CC campus. It will be up through the end of the school year and come down this summer, Hunter-Larsen says.
"The unexpected beauty and intention of murals have the power to change the perception of ignored neighborhoods and spaces," Aguirre says in an artist statement on his website Theshiftchange.com. "While graffiti was all about making myself known as an individual, my current work embraces contemplation on a space's use, history and people, to create visual work that enhances communities."
Hunter-Larsen and Idris Goodwin, a CC professor who teaches a hip-hop aesthetics class, started to play with the idea of a large hip-hop event about a year ago, when Omar Offendum, a Syrian American hip-hop artist, performed at the college.
"We talked about how hip-hop has become an international language," Hunter-Larsen says. "It started off in such a specific context, and now it's become this international art form, this culturally flexible art form that appears all over the world. It seems just as powerful on reservations in the Southwest as in Syria right now."
The culture emerged about 40 years ago in the Bronx in New York City, Goodwin says.
"Hip-hop has always been the music of the people and the working class - their dreams, their frustrations," he says. "It's the modern day blues."
"Rhythm Nations: Transnational Hip Hop in the Gallery, in the Street, and on the Stage"
What: Works by Ruben Aguirre, iROZEALb, Jaque Fragua and Kelly Monico When: Opens Monday, March 24; opening reception and "Dialogues in Rhythm" panel discussion, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday; exhibit open 12:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through April 8
Where: I.D.E.A. Space, Cornerstone Arts Center, Colorado College, 825 N. Cascade Ave.
Admission: Free; 389-6066, coloradocollege.edu/ideaspace
Contact Jennifer Mulson, 636-0270
Shwayze - 8 p.m. Friday, The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave., $13-$15; 227-7625, black sheeprocks.com.
Josh Maxey & Quintet - 7:30 p.m. Friday, Soir?, 1003 S. Tejon St., $15-$20; 422-5299, theartofjazzproject.com/events.