Neon canvases with gold accents pop from the white-washed walls of Gallery 102, while an array of Hennessy and Olde English bottles are scattered on the floor.
The art space on the first floor of Smith Hall looks brighter than usual because of senior Jahdai Kilkenny’s new exhibition called “Stupid Dope Moves,” an exploration into the art behind hip-hop and the genre’s cultural reach.
Jenna Helfman, a senior fine arts major whose art is featured in the exhibition, focused her piece on what she sees as an important fashion aspect of the culture: Notorious B.I.G.’s sweater.
The piece, acrylic on canvas, takes a swatch of the bright colors and crazy patterns of the sweater and makes it larger, cutting Notorious B.I.G. out of the frame entirely and leaving only a hint of the hip-hop icon through his clothing and accessories.
“I thought of the idea to take this iconic photo of Biggie that hopefully people might be able to recognize. I took it out of context but still left his gold chain, and it’s sort of a play on textiles as well,” Helfman said. “I might frame it in a big gold frame.”
Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kilkenny was surrounded by hip-hop. The exhibition fuses her art and hip-hop interests in a way that she hopes will be more accessible to students on campus.
“[Hip-hop is] always in your face and to be able to bring that with an art side I think brings more people around,” Kilkenny said. “Not everybody understands art, not everybody understands abstract art or contemporary art. It doesn’t excite them, so I feel like the flashiness of hip-hop tied with the art will drive people to come.”
Both Kilkenny and Helfman said that this exhibition is one of the brightest they’ve seen in the gallery, and one of the few based on pop culture. Kilkenny hopes hip-hop’s common appeal will draw students into the often ignored space and help them connect with the art on a more basic level.
And while hip-hop is all about excess, the pieces Kilkenny chose all have a sense of calculated restraint. The artists, mostly friends of Kilkenny’s, have different visions and Kilkenny ensured that they would all create pieces with some hip-hop influence without being too “in your face.”
“I was like ‘Whatever you do, it has to be dope,’” Kilkenny said.
The word “dope,” central to the exhibition’s title and featured prominently as a gold ring in one of Kilkenny’s pieces, is deeply rooted in hip-hop as both a descriptive word and a term associated with drugs and drug use, another aspect of the hip-hop culture itself.
“That has a negative connotation but at the same time I see it as kind of positive in the sense. Dope is a drug, but it’s something addictive, it’s something that you feel a rush or energy off of and I think when you use it as a positive term, as an adjective, it has the same meaning,” Kilkenny said. “So like, if something is dope, it’s something that gives you a rush or something that intrigues you.”
The opening reception for “Stupid Dope Moves” is Feb. 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. and the exhibition runs until Feb. 28.