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The Gibbes Museum is hosting its first-ever hip-hop show to align with the closing of an art exhibit that’s been on display since October. 

The works of Romare Bearden — an extremely light-skinned African-American artist who could have easily lived his life as White but refused to do so — hone in on Black life and struggles to achieve equality and respect.

Bearden, who died in 1988, was awarded the National Medal of Arts just one year before his passing. 

Some 55 of his avant-garde paintings, works on paper and collages hang in the museum as part of the Romare Bearden: Abstraction exhibit, which will be taken down Jan. 9.

Two days before, Charleston hip-hop artists will perform in response to his works. 

Kris Kaylin, Z93Jamz DJ and radio personality, organized the first hip-hop show to be held at the Gibbes. Provided

The show was organized by 93Jamz radio DJ and personality Kris Kaylin, “The Weekend Diva,” after Gibbes curator of education and programs Chase Quinn reached out with the idea. 

“When I saw the exhibit, it reminded me of organized chaos,” Kaylin said. “Honestly, that’s what hip-hop can feel like at times. It always tells a vivid story, and I knew I needed storytellers who would tell the story of the artist but from their perspectives and from this time period. I also wanted artists who would attract a new audience to the Gibbes Museum.”

For the show, Kaylin — who has interviewed Megan Thee Stallion, Kanye West and 50 Cent, among other famous musicians — selected hip-hop artist and U.S. Water Alliance’s inaugural One Water artist-in-residence Benny Starr, along with record company founder and hip-hop, R&B and soul artist Mike Brown and spoken word poet Alayssa Thomas. 

Benny Starr is one of the hip-hop artists performing at the Gibbes. Joseph Johnson/Provided

Starr released “A Water Album” on Juneteenth 2019. The record explored the connections between climate change and gentrification, along with feminism, marginalization and Black Southern heritage. 

Starr has since used that project and his artist-in-residency to promote water equity. During the pandemic, he said his focus has been on his health and family, “allowing what’s next musically to find me.” 

When Kaylin reached out to him about the Gibbes show, he knew he wanted to participate. 

“I’m an artist who enjoys pushing boundaries, and I know Kris has great instincts and awareness, which makes her such a great curator,” Starr said. “So the conversation was pretty seamless.”

Starr said his music for the show, created in response to Bearden’s work, will be a bit more abstract than previous performances. 

“I have a deep respect for his life and artistry, and it makes me think of my own experiences in South Carolina, which is where I’ve spent the entirety of my life,” he said. “I hope (this show and exhibit) reminds us about the power of the creative mind — and what we could do with that power.”

Alayssa Thomas will perform at the Gibbes show. Provided

Thomas, who started writing at age 8, often fuses her rhythmic poetic flow with an assortment of instrumentals. This time, she will perform a cappella.

“Serious topics like Black Lives Matter … I love a cappella because the music also can be a distraction,” Thomas said. “This was my first time actually focusing on abstract art and breaking it down to my understanding.”

As for this being the first hip-hop show at the art museum, Starr notes that progress in the South often doesn’t come quickly enough — in this case, he references the fact hip-hop hasn’t been showcased in the museum up until this point. 

“I’m not as enamored by too many ‘firsts’ anymore,” Starr said. “It seems to remind me of how many spaces and places we’ve not had access to over the decades.”

Kaylin calls it a historic moment, a chance for future generations to not deal with as many “firsts.” 

“Hip-hop music is loved in Charleston, but when it comes to having acts perform, venues are always cautious,” she said. “The Gibbes Museum is bridging that gap, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I hope that it will be the first of many.”

WHAT: Improvised: A Hip Hop Experience

WHEN: 6 p.m. Jan. 7

WHERE: Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St. 

PRICE: $35 adults, $20 students and faculty

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This content was originally published here.

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