By Ashley Zimmerman
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It's February again: that odd, lightning-fast month when musical and cultural education is supposed to peak. Carnival and Mardi Gras festivals buzz around each other rich with tradition, young Romeos court cute Juliets, and somewhere in the background, black history hovers too — which means that for the rest of this month, school-aged children will be subjected to some of the most mundane, boring, and depressing lectures you can imagine. Kids right now are being schooled on slavery and a heap of other injustices but not much else.
One of the most glaring areas where the black history curriculum is lacking is music. Maybe some kids will learn about Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong this month, and if they're lucky, some Motown and Harlem renaissance will push its way in, but that's not enough. That's why, for a lot of folks, it's not a problem that Black History Month occupies the shortest month of the year: Better to hurry up and get it over with.
So how do you spice things up? What does it take to add flavor to a month that's unnecessarily depressing? Those are questions local hip-hop MC, painter, and artistic renaissance man Kapone Is ILL has been asking himself since he landed a solo show at South Regional Broward Community College. Kapone is often seen at local open mics, peddling his artwork and rhymes. The folks at BCC asked him to put together an art show to challenge notions of what Black History Month should be.
"I've been to a lot of Black History Month exhibits, and a lot of times, they just portray the negative stuff that happened to black folks back in the day," Kapone said recently by phone. "I understand that you have to teach the basics. But if I'm going to be in charge of an exhibition, I didn't want it to have anything to do with slavery. I wanted to show black people in couture, looking sophisticated. This is not going to be your average Black History Month."
When Kapone got the call from BCC in late November, he immediately started working on new pieces to construct his version of black history through the eyes of hip-hop. It was a natural choice for Kapone, who's been fusing art and music for years, similar to the way painter Jean Michel Basquiat did in the early '80s. Like Basquiat's, much of Kapone's work seems to leap off the canvas and scream for attention, the same way the best hip-hop lyrics do.
"I'm really influenced by underground music more than anything else and try to bring that out in all of my paintings," Kapone says. "That's where I get all my inspiration from."
BCC library gallery visitors will see Kapone pieces like Chocolate Girl Remix and Absolute Bootylicious, which speak to where urban culture is heading, not just where it's been.
Kapone was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Having moved to the United States when he was 12, he sees himself as African rather than African-American. As an African artist, he's hoping he can lead American viewers to see beyond color. "I usually just use blue when I paint people," he says. "I don't want folks to ask if someone is Latin or black or Jewish... it shouldn't matter. I want folks to come and see my art for what it is and not be color-struck."
The BCC gallery bills itself as eco-friendly, and Kapone wanted to follow suit, so all of the pieces he created over the past two months incorporate recycled scrap material.
"I put a lot of thought into all of this," he says. "I'm using my old sneakers for certain pieces like KiLL vs. Jordan to show the way Jordan paved the way for every athlete that's talented to get their own shoe. That's black history too... I'm creating art that folks can relate to. Everybody in the hood bought a pair of Air Jordans: Let's talk about what it really means now...
"I'm taking on Black History Month as an artist. I've seen all the nooses and the slavery photos. I want to do something different." He wants to show how people have grown, he says, not how they were once oppressed. "I'm all about moving forward."