new york rashaad newsome is turning hip hop pop culture into art
Rashaad Newsome is part composer and part artist. Over the last five years he's done everything from designing the artwork for Solange Knowles’ Saint Heron debut album cover to teaming up with Alexander Wang to deliver his famed stage performance Shade...
Tell us a bit more about your signature performance Shade Compositions…
I've performed it a few times now; it's based on a conversation about black culture, expressions and actions, and who is accessing them. At some point these things- like the noise you make kissing your teeth - that are considered ghetto/ratchet/low class became a part of contemporary pop culture and people started to access them from a position of power; it became an open source. So when I perform the stage show of Shade, I'm taking those gestures and using them to create sonic compositions. What you get is a modern day chamber music performance; a mash-up of these gestures, sounds, and some 90s sampled beats.
And your recent Shade performance in Austria was styled by DKNY right?
Yeah I worked with DKNY for the wardrobe, so my performers all wore the DKNY x Opening Ceremony capsule collection, which is really 90s, super hip hop, think Mary J Blige in Real Love video. In terms of Shade, from the beginning, I always worked with wardrobe because I think about performance as a full experience both sonically and visually.
You've performed the piece before in 2010 in New York's MOMA P.S.1 with Alexander Wang styling the performers - how did that collaboration happen?
It happened really organically - Alex loves the piece so it made sense to work together. From my point of view, because I'm looking at the stigma around certain expressions I thought it was important to bring fashion in and work with a designer who can bring a certain aesthetic to combat the idea that this was 'ghetto'. Also because Shade is a stage show, designers can look at it like a fashion show; it's a way to show their collection in a really new and experimental context.
You've also worked a lot with Hood by Air's Shayne Oliver, how did you become friends?
Shayne is like a little brother to me. I met him years ago, when I first moved to New York. He was really just starting the line then. At the time I had a residency at this place in Soho with a great editing suite, so I was there all the time. He would come and hang out with a lot of other people, so my studio became a hang out and I became the unofficial Hood by Air video guy. I'd make videos of the clothes and we've been friends ever since. Then in 2010 when I did my first art video around my work dealing with Voguing, shown in the Whitney Biennial, Shayne was in it. It's great because he's now having similar conversations through fashion that I'm having in my art, around Voguing, hip hop culture and street dance.
What's your creative process like?
It's fun for me, it has to be fun, or what's the point? I love that each project is one big experiment. Like when I'm doing Shade because it's site specific and I audition local people to perform it's so dependent on so many variables.
I know what I want to do, the piece has a structure but it can be scary because in the beginning if you don't feel like you are getting that synergy with people then the project will fail. There can be a lot of pressure but it's still fun and I welcome the challenge.
What was some of the first artwork you made?
Growing up in New Orleans I was always making art. I would paint and draw all the time, I don't think that my paintings were any good back then but my mother has them all up in her house still.
And what's up next for you?
I'm preparing for my solo show at Marlborough Gallery- 57th street, which starts on December 9th. I'm also planning an upcoming project with Solange Knowles, it will be an extension of what we did with the album cover of Saint Heron and there will be a performance element so stay tuned…
Text Carlene Thomas-Bailey