You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)

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James A. Garfield and Jam Master Jay get popped; of the two, who is immortal?

I'm interested in variance in structures of power across racial and cultural contexts. Consider the cultural currency of the murdered rapper [the title of this project is after the song by Biggie Smalls]. How does it compare to the ripples left by presidential assassination? What function does death serve in the sphere of "black cool" as opposed to its properties within established white-majority systems of authority? And what dynamic do these pop-icon positions of power have within the tensions of the white-black racial binary and a continuing history of marginalization?

Big-kid words aside, I started thinking about this project mainly because of the popularity of Tupac, Biggie, Jam Master Jay, Big L, ironic "ghetto" parodies, etc. on social media sites. If relevance comes from reach of name, the "star power" tips heavily over to these figures in hip-hop (because really, I couldn't tell you what William McKinley did during his time in office if I tried). But at the same time, when these icons are pulled out of their race-specific contexts of reverence and struggle, are they being disenfranchised all over again, this time by the 15-year-old blogger from Idaho who thinks it'd be great to run their album covers through Blingee?


I first found presidential portrait photos of the four presidents assassinated while in office: JFK, William McKinley, Abraham Lincoln, and James A. Garfield. I then chose the four most prominent (IMO) assassinated rappers: Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Big L, and Jam Master Jay. Starting with the presidential photos, I searched for images of each rapper in which his face is at similar angles to his respective president. I then combined the two faces using MorphThing, a website that you may occasionally see in pop-up ads. Here is what it spits out:

These I photoshopped back into the presidential portraits.

The final products exist as matted 30" x 40" digital prints in List 221 from 10/5 (tonight) - 10/11, then probably in my studio afterwords. In the show, they are accompanied by a video installation to contextualize them within a conversation of lateral appropriation across minority groups and my own discomfort at commenting on race dynamics outside my personal experience.

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