Esmesha’s Life: Celebrating Hip-Hop Culture at The Dirty South Exhibition at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

I’ve always been proud to be a native of the #DirtySouth. Houston is my home. The South’s enigmatic culture permeates through film, music, fashion and art – and it’s hard to ignore the immutable presence of Southern influence throughout society.

I grew up in Trinity Gardens (near Fifth Ward) and my childhood resonated with the sounds of Z-Ro, UGK, Scarface and Geto Boys. It’s safe to say that I fell in love with hip-hop early on. The sounds of 97.9 The Box were my daily soundtrack and I swore Madd Hatta was my long, lost uncle.

When I caught word of The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, there was no doubt that I had to check it out.

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) describes this distinctive presentation as:

“The Dirty South makes visible the roots of Southern hip hop culture and reveals how the aesthetic traditions of the African American South have shaped visual art and musical expression over the last 100 years.

Echoing from New York to Los Angeles in the 1980s, the musical genre of hip hop became, for many, the empowering language of the voiceless. In the mid-1990s, André 3000 of the Atlanta-based duo OutKast, proclaimed, “The South got something to say!” André’s clarion call shone a light into a centuries-old repository of rich Southern aesthetic traditions rooted in the fraught histories of this nation while centering the South as a vital contributor to the rich musical genre of hip hop.

While the expression “Dirty South” is codified within the culture of Southern hip hop music, it encompasses a much broader understanding of the geography, history, and culture of the Black South. The Dirty South explores the traditions, aesthetic impulses, and exchanges between the visual and sonic arts over the last century.” (CAMH, 2021)

With over 130 works on display, The Dirty South was both substantial and monumental. Featured artists included Terry Adkins, El Franco Lee II, Allison Janae Hamilton, Rodney McMillian, Houston native Jason Moran, Deborah Roberts and more.

One of my favorite showcased pieces included Nadine Robinson’s “Coronation Theme: Organon”, which consisted of a towering sonic sculpture that paid homage to the 1963 civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama (pictured in the featured image of this post). It’s breathtaking.

All in all, The Dirty South exhibition was a bona fide treat. I left the museum with a myriad of emotions coursing through me – pride, sadness, anger, enlightenment and even love. My reverent admiration for the South continues to flow deeper than The Mighty Mississippi.

To find out more information visit the official Contemporary Arts Museum Houston website here or visit them in-person at 5216 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77006. If you live below the Mason-Dixon line, I highly recommend checking out this feature. The Dirty South will remain on view until February 6, 2022. Admission is free. Masks are also required.

Excerpt included from: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston,

Photography Credits: All photographs personally taken by Esmesha Campbell

“The South got something to say!”

-Andre 3000 (aka “3 Stacks”)

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Writer. Fashion Enthusiast. Dopeness Curator.

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