Rashaad Newsome

Teaching Page

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Rashaad Newsome, Stop Playing in My Face! (video still), 2016. Single-channel video with sound, 04:02 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and De Buck Gallery.

This teaching page provides analysis of the work of art, background information on the artist, key ideas, discussion questions, and online resources for additional learning. You can download a PDF of this teaching page and large video stills of ICON and Stop Playing In My Face!Rashaad Newsome: ICON is on view in the Imprint Gallery through December 3, 2017.

THE ART

Four dazzling videos of voguing dance performances explore themes of power and status. Evolved within the gay and transgender ballroom dancing scene of New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1960s, voguing dance was elaborated over time in hip-hop communities that offered shelter and validity to queer youth of color. While voguing has become popular in wider segments of the general society due to appropriation by other artists, its origins lie in communities that have been shamed or ignored. Voguing provided young people a means of exploring and expressing their identity in a supportive environment.

Voguing originally emerged in presentations by African American drag performers during the 1960s. Intricate moves using angular and rigid arm, leg, and body positions were inspired by model poses in Vogue magazine; these poses often recalled the linear shapes of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Over time certain signature moves of vogue performance evolved, including hand performance, floor performance, spin dips, catwalk, and duck-walking.

The four videos on view collage together layers of digital information including dance, sound, and images, with an intent to reinstate and celebrate the cultural origins of voguing. The exhibition includes the videos, Untitled (2008) and Untitled—New Way (2009), two of Newsome’s earlier works in which the artist filmed dancers’ vogue improvisations, edited his film footage to isolate certain dance elements, and asked the dancers to re-perform their movements based on his video-edited choreography. In Untitled—New Way, the artist focused attention on the dancer by removing any distractions of sound. Also on view are two of the artist’s more recent video works, ICON (2014) and Stop Playing in My Face! (2016), which explore the connections between agency (the capacity to act or exert power) and privilege, and weave the exuberant pageantry of voguing with digitally-rendered backdrops of glittering architectural spaces.

Excerpts from Untitled, Untitled—New Way, Stop Playing in My Face! and ICON may be viewed by clicking on the links in the titles.

THE ARTIST

Rashaad Newsome is a New York based artist who combines collage, video, music, computer programming, and performance to make a unique form of art. He samples images used in popular media and pop culture that transmit ideas of power, such as long-used versions of English or French coats of arms, and shows how they convey assumptions about who is or isn’t respectable.

Newsome was born in 1979 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in art history at Tulane University in 2001. In 2004, he received a certificate of study in digital post production from Film/Video Arts Inc. in New York City. He has exhibited and performed in galleries, museums, institutions, and festivals throughout the world. 

KEY IDEAS

  • Bringing attention to an overlooked art form and its origins within LGBTQ+ Black and Latinx cultures
  • Examining ways that culture is expressed within communities with and without power
  • Highlighting the practice of appropriation in the development of art forms
  • Combining techniques to create a multi-disciplinary work of art
  • Exploring how status and power are represented and transmitted through symbols

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is your understanding of the term “multidisciplinary?” How does it pertain to artistic techniques used by one artist?
  2. What do you know about developments in the world of dance in recent decades? Where are places that dance is performed and witnessed? What are some professional and nonprofessional expressions of dance?
  3. What do you know about appropriation, that is, what are some ways that artists and non-artists appropriate the works of creative people who have worked in previous periods? What are some criticisms you have heard of appropriation of the artistry of one societal group by another?
  4. What are some ways that developing a sense of identity can be difficult for any young person? How might it be harder for youth of color or of alternative gender expression? In what ways might being part of a group with shared interests increase comfort with evolving gender identity?
  5. In what ways does bringing new and experimental art forms into established venues like art museums give them more respectability or acceptance?
  6. Rashaad Newsome has said, “With the dancers acting as my pen, [I’m] creating lines, shapes, landscapes, and an array of narratives." What are some ideas that this statement gives you?

RESOURCES

 On the Artist:

Rashaad Newsome's website
Newsome’s Vimeo page
W Magazine Article

Art Methods:

Art in America Interview with Newsome
NYTimes Article on Newsome
i-D Magazine (Vice) Interview with Newsome

Context:

Vox video on the history of voguing
Britannica article on dance as an art form
i-D Magazine: The Art of the #blacklivesmatter Movement