The Black man in the painting is holding the two fingers on his right hand down in the sign of an “A”. Nowhere in the world is that physical gesture more recognized than in Atlanta. Behind him is the outstretched arm of a white man, his hand is facing upwards and is in the form of a oft-used white power symbol. The dichotomy of the men in the painting, “The photobombing of Mr. Juicyhand”, is what the message the artist, Alfred Conteh, is trying to send to whoever sees the painting: Hip-Hop culture is more than just about the music. Much more.
Zucot Gallery in Castleberry Hill is the southeast’s largest Black-owned gallery and and thus has the responsibility to display the kind of art that “The Gift”, a 39-piece collection has on display, according Onaje Henderson, managing partner, who along with Omari Henderson, partner, and founding partner and owner Troy Taylor run the gallery.
“We’re one of the only places in Atlanta that tells unapologetically Black stories,” said Henderson. “This exhibit was designed to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop, but it’s also a gift.”
“The Gift” opened to the public at the end of September and will run through the end of November. Taking up both floors of the gallery, the art reflects both on hip-hop’s past and present. Pieces from 11 artist, some from Atlanta such as Horace Imhotep, a Morehouse College alum, and Michael Reese, who is currently a resident artist at Jardin Rouge in Marrakech, Morocco. Reese’s pieces (see what I did there?) in the exhibit are nods to hip-hop’s past that include blueprints of a turntable (“Oratonical Triple Feature”) and a boom box (“Myth Seeking Man of the Universe”). Both pieces include archival ink paint, gesso, watercolor paper, pen and ink.
“We wanted everybody to have a voice in it,” said Henderson about the collection of artists that are involved in “The Gift,” which also has a virtual gallery available for viewing. “These artists are creative as hell.” Henderson wants visitors to the gallery to know that hip-hop involves images much more complex and introspective of what some might see on television and on social media.
“What you don’t see here [in the exhibit] is anybody bussin’ it open,” he joked. Henderson’s t-shirt said “Hip Hop is Black Art”. Pieces like “The Hackers” with it’s bright red backdrop and yellow robot being ridden by a pair of Black kids and “Olukun’s Baptism”, which depicts an image of a Black kid wearing a white and red “Crack Era” t-shirt immediately grab one’s attention. Imhotep has a room in the exhibit for even more pieces, including “The Proverbial Blossom”, a 13.25 x 13.25 in. mixed material piece that is hanging next to another of Imhotep’s pieces, “Tribe.” Both pieces combine flowers and the faces of Black children.
Imagery isn’t everything, but it is important. “The Gift” includes many images that may inform, uplift, or upset some, but there will be thought involved in a walk throughout the gallery. “ATLiens” is a collaborative piece between artists Charly Palmer and Paper Frank and features a Black boy in an Outkast baseball cap with matching baseball jersey. He looks like he’s both in style and preparing to play a Little League game at Gresham Park. It’s hip-hop in it’s purest form.