By Fritz Esker
Renowned video, performance, and collage artist Rashaad Newsome returned to his native New Orleans for the opening of Rashaad Newsome: King of Arms at the New Orleans Museum of Art on June 21 as part of NOMA's Great Hall Exhibition Series.
King of Arms is the third installment of Newsome's "Heraldry" series, following Pursuivant and Herald. The series combines signs of royalty and nobility with elements of hip-hop culture in collages and videos. Heraldry originated in medieval times as a way to identify the heritage and honor of those in combat. Newsome first became fascinated by heraldic imagery while living in Paris and he decided to examine why these images have endured for so long.
Newsome drew a connection between the ornamentation on the coats of arms of old Europe with the clothing and jewelry choices of modern hip-hop artists. Both signify allegiance to a group, gang, or family. He also drew connections between the male-dominated worlds of medieval courts and present-day urban gangs.
"I wanted to recreate these (heraldic) images through the lens of contemporary culture," Newsome said.
Returning to New Orleans to showcase his work has been an exciting experience for Newsome. When he left the city in 1999, he and his friends were staging art exhibitions in each other's homes due to the dearth of art venues in the city. But Newsome has been happy to see the expansion of exhibitions at NOMA, as well as the thriving art scene on St. Claude Avenue.
"It's a really exciting time for artists and everyone who loves art in New Orleans," Newsome said.
It wasn't until Newsome came back to the Crescent City that he realized how much of an influence the city had on his work. New Orleans is also a city attracted to rituals and symbolism, one example being Mardi Gras krewes, with their own unique emblems and courts.
"Once I looked at the landscape with fresh eyes, I saw it," Newsome said. "I had to leave and go to Europe to be able to see it." Newsome did not just return to New Orleans to showcase King of Arms. While in the city, he plans to work on a new video production also titled "King of Arms." Newsome will perform in the video, which will feature a coronation ceremony and a second line of dancers, revelers, and McMain High School musicians. The video will be shot in City Park and NOMA, then turned into a future video artwork.
A graduate of Tulane University, Newsome's work was showcased in the "Greater New York" exhibition at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. He completed projects in 2012 for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Feast Projects during the Hong Kong International Art Fair. NOMA's presentation of King of Arms is the second solo exhibition of Newsome's career. It runs through September 15.