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Exploring Hip Hop Art at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC. I'm Doug Johnson.  On our show today, we:

Play music by the newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ...

Explain the mysterious fear of the number thirteen …

And visit a new art show celebrating hip hop culture.

Hip Hop Art

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. recently opened an exciting new show called "Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture." The exhibit celebrates the importance of American hip hop culture by showing the work of six artists and a poet. Faith Lapidus has more.

When you walk into the exhibit area of "Recognize!" you see the strikingly bright colors of large letters painted on the walls. Two local artists, Tim Conlon and Dave Hupp, made these graffiti artworks.  The exhibit states that graffiti art is one of the four elements of hip hop. The others are break dancing, rap music, and DJing, when a person plays different beats of recorded music.

You can also see the brightly colored paintings of the artist Kehinde Wiley. He paints famous rap musicians like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. But he paints them in a way that is like traditional paintings created hundreds of years ago.

David Scheinbaum uses black and white photography to capture hip hop performers. Since two thousand, he has taken pictures of more than one hundred artists. Looking at his photographs, you can feel the energy of these performers and the surrounding crowds of listeners.

Jefferson Pinder makes video art that explores hip hop culture, the identity of African-Americans and his own personal experiences. For example, in the video "Mule," Pinder wears business clothes as he walks down city streets. He must struggle because he is dragging a heavy object that is attached to him with metal chains.

Earlier, we said the show included the work of a poet. You might be wondering how you would show poetry in a museum. The words of one poem by Nikki Giovanni are written on a large white wall. While you look at the words, you can hear a recording of Giovanni reading the poem.

Across the room is a work by Shinique Smith. Her sculpture, "No Thief to Blame," looks like a graffiti painting that has come out of and off the wall. It is an exciting explosion of paper, paint and found objects.  These many forms of art honor the energetic and inventive world of hip hop culture.

13

Our listener question this week comes from Bangladesh. Foqrul Islam wants to know about the history of the number thirteen and why Americans consider this number to be bad luck.

It is not only Americans who consider this number to be unlucky. People around the world have what are called superstitions about the number thirteen. Superstitions are popular beliefs that are not based on reason or science. A person believes something brings good or bad luck. The fear of the number thirteen is called triskaidekaphobia.

This fear is so strong around the world that many tall buildings do not have a thirteenth level. And, many airports do not have a gate numbered thirteen.

Some experts say fears about this number come from ancient religious stories. One Norse myth is about twelve gods who were having a party in their heaven, Valhalla. Loki, the god of evil and disorder, arrived at the dinner party uninvited. He became the thirteenth person at the table.  Loki then helped cause the death of Balder, the god of joy.

In the Christian book, the Bible, Judas is the thirteenth guest at the dinner called the Last Supper. Judas is the man who betrays Jesus, leading to his death.

Many people around the world also consider Fridays that fall on the thirteenth day of a month to be especially bad luck.

Thomas Fernsler is an associate policy scientist at the University of Delaware in Newark. He is also known as "Doctor 13" because of his interest in this famous number. He says numerology shows that thirteen suffers because of its position next to the "complete" number twelve. He notes there are many sets of twelve, such as twelve months in the year and twelve signs of the zodiac. Mr. Fernsler says thirteen is one more than twelve which makes it what he calls a "restless" number.

Thomas Fernsler can tell you many interesting facts about the number thirteen. He can tell you that if February has a Friday the thirteenth in a non-leap year, March and November will also have Friday the thirteenths. Mr. Fernsler can also tell you many examples of good and bad events that have taken place throughout history on Friday the thirteenth.

But do not worry.  The only Friday the thirteenth this year will take place in June.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

That was the great nineteen sixties surf rock band, the Ventures, with their song, "Hawaii Five-O."  On Monday, that group and four other music acts will be welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York City.  Barbara Klein plays music from this year's honorees.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is in Cleveland, Ohio.  Artists can be considered for the Hall of Fame twenty-five years after the release of their first recording.

The president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation calls this year's inductees "trailblazers."  One of them, Madonna, got her start in the early nineteen eighties and became one of the most successful entertainers ever.  Here she sings "Vogue."

In the nineteen sixties, the Dave Clark Five was part of the so-called British invasion of America, along with the Beatles and other groups.  Here the band performs "Do You Love Me."

Canadian Leonard Cohen is a folk rock music hero.  Many musicians perform his songs which have an unusual beauty. Here he sings "Hallelujah."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also honors John Mellencamp this year.  We leave you with this American artist performing a song that seems just right for this report. Here is "R.O.C.K. in the USA."

I'm Doug Johnson.  I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Caty Weaver and Dana Demange, who was also our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

Send your questions about American life to mosaic@voanews.com.  Please include your full name and mailing address.  Or write to AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


"American Mosaic" in VOA Special English
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Source: Exploring Hip Hop Art at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington
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