Hip hop and pre-16th-century art might seem an unlikely pairing, but NY-based artist Cecilia Azcarate thinks otherwise. Described as “highlighting an invisible conversation between hip hop and art before the 16th century,” her Tumblr-based B4-XVI before sixteen project showcases surprising parallels between rappers/hip hop artists and art that’s hundreds of years old.
The comparisons are sometimes shockingly uncanny, and are a bit like a time-travelling “Who Wore It Best?” compilation: Rick Ross and Hans Holbein’s Henry VIII with near-identical white fur mantels and huge gold chains; a man from Quentin Massys’ Ecce Homo matching the long hair wigs and big rings favoured by 2 Chainz; a pair of grimacing guys from the Van Eycks’ Ghent altarpiece sporting the same stylized blond hair and bling as the ATL Twins.
Azcarate’s hip hop/art collection was initially inspired by a trip to the Met. When checking out Virgin and Child Enthroned with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, a late 15th-century wood panel painting by Morata Master, a detail from one of the panels caught her attention: a hat on the floor reminded her of a Supreme hat (often worn by the likes of Tyler the Creator).
After that, Azcarate started keeping an eye open for other similarities. “I collect old art,” she says, “and spend lots of time looking at it. And my twitter feed is full of pop culture – and therefore rap stuff – and I just link both. I guess it’s two worlds I’m familiar with.”
This isn’t the first time Azcarate’s explored the similarities between past iconography and current culture: her The One Million Commandments looks through tweets from celebrities (like Wiz Khalifa, Justin Beiber, and Soulja Boy) for “new moral codes.” Its tagline, provided by Saul Williams, is “There’s only room for 140 characters in Heaven.”
Tweets are presented covered in an unsettling mix of computer-style religious iconography (pixelated white doves, various praying hands) and symbols of wealth (gold coins, sports cars). What makes The One Million Commandments unsettling is how well all the imagery seems to go together.
Seems like symbols of power, whether religious or simply cultural, always tend towards markers of money: gold, jewelry, furs. Maybe some things never change. So is there really an unseen exchange occurring between hip hop and art from centuries past? “I think it’s simply about wondering if there is a timeless iconography of power, religion, and swag,” Azcarate says, “and if so, highlighting that.”
Find more of Cecilia Azcarate’s work on her website.