Rashaad Newsome

Rashaad Newsome’s is critically acclaimed for compositions that synthesize studio art with forms of expression largely unrecognized by the art canon including hip-hop, audio sampling, the programming of digital tools as well as urban dance forms. Newsome frames these contemporary cultural elements within traditional, historic frameworks, creating pieces that surprise us with their unexpected associations. “He is very much of this generation that is pop and is music,” reflects Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1. “He puts it in a blender, making it his own.”

Newsome is known for his video work Untitled 2008 and Untitled (New Way) 2009 based on ‘vogueing’ – the African-American and Latino dance-form that fuses breakdancing with the poise of a fashion shoot. For his contribution to the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Newsome filmed dancers improvisations, edited the footage, and had the dancer re-perform his video based choreography. This recombinant use of performance space, technology, and movement sensibilities create a taxonomy of gestures that, while not characteristically found in voguing, remains authentic to the pastiche nature of the ballroom community.

In more recent works, Newsome has used the coat of arms as a means of communicating the symbolism of contemporary African-American culture, drawing a relationship to European aristocratic rituals and imagery. “I want to create abstractions made of status symbols of wealth and power that have roots in heraldry, yet play with the design formulas inherent to the baroque.”

Shade Compositions (2012) SFMOMA features a performance video of the same name, composed of a chorus of San Francisco locals performing his choreographed sound score. The work records a repetition of snaps, sighs, groans and gestures associated with African-American culture. The work challenges these stereotypes in a humorous way, examining constructions of identity within the media and popular culture while demonstrating how gestures or sounds can have a meaning larger than themselves. Newsome records and remixes the audio of the performers live, using a Nintendo® Wii™ game controller. The sounds become increasingly layered throughout the piece; developing harmonies that shows the influence of orchestral music.

“I use collage and repetition to divorce gestures and body language from their original context and conventional significance. By removing them from their original context, I de-semanticises the codes of body language. The performers repeat the gestures excessively, almost to the point of trance. In this way, the gestures are emptied of their communicative significance, while remaining decipherable due to their affective content.”

Rashaad Newsome was born in New Orleans, Louisiana where he received a B.A. in Art History at Tulane University before studying film as well as music production and programing in New York. His work was included in the 2011 Venice Biennale, 2010 Whitney Biennial, 2010 Greater New York as well as Performa 11. His solo exhibitions include Galerie Stadtpark, Austria, Marlborough Chelsea, New York, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, ar/ge Kunst Galerie Museum, Italy, and the Ramis Barquet Gallery, New York, among others. His live work has been performed at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, Miami Art Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and The Whitney Museum, New York. Recent awards include: 2012 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, 2010 The Urban Artist Initiative individual Artist Grant, 2009 Rema Hort Mann Foundation, Visual Arts Grant, and 2009 BAC Community Arts Regrant, New York.