Nov. 21, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 5

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    Hip-hop like an Egyptian: High school students translate O. I. cultural studies into urban art

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Lavie Raven (center), a social studies teacher at Kenwood Academy and minister of education for the University of Hip-Hip, poses with two of his students, Carmia Arrington and Darryl Wade.
    High school students from Kenwood Academy have created their own personal interpretation of the culture of ancient Egypt in colorful murals that were displayed officially for the first time Monday in an exhibition opening at the Oriental Institute.

    As participants in the after school program called the University of Hip-Hop, the Kenwood students learned about the environment, history, geography, language and art of ancient Egypt in a dozen sessions led by faculty, staff and graduate students in the Oriental Institute.

    The high school students then created a series of colorful murals exploring ancient Egyptian motifs from a contemporary urban perspective. They selected ancient Egypt as the theme because of its rich artistic tradition and its fame as the oldest civilization in Africa.

    The results of the collaboration are a 48-foot mural of the Nile Valley, dominated by the pharaoh painted in hip-hop style, and four smaller portable murals that feature hieroglyphs and other Egyptian motifs. The murals, along with photographs of the student artists at work, will be exhibited at the Oriental Institute through March 2, 2003.

    [Jeremy Tolbert]
    Jeremy Tolbert participated in the University of Hip-Hop program.
    The University of Hip-Hop (Healthy Independent People Helping Other People) is a Chicago Public Schools-sponsored group, organized by the Southwest Youth Collaborative. These citywide after school programs involve artists and students in modern urban culture, especially in the visual arts, music and a fusion of the two. Rap music, break dancing and graffiti art are a few of the artistic expressions the students explore.

    From February through April, Kenwood Academy high school students participating in the University of Hip-Hop program took a series of classes at the Oriental Institute to learn more about ancient Egypt. The murals are the students’ interpretive expression of what they learned in the workshops.

    “We were delighted by our collaboration with the after school program,” said Karen Wilson, Director of the Oriental Institute Museum. “Their interpretation of Egyptian images respected the ancient heritage, but also provided us all with a fresh perspective on the culture.”

    The program was coordinated by Wendy Ennes, Teacher Services and Family Program Coordinator at the Oriental Institute, and Lavie Raven, Kenwood Academy social studies teacher and minister of education at the University of Hip-Hop.

    “It was exciting to see the students taking what they learned at the Oriental Institute and developing their own contemporary interpretation of ancient Egyptian culture,” Ennes said. “We had no idea what the result would be or how well hip-hop culture could mesh with ancient Egypt.”

    After the presentation at the Oriental Institute, the 48-foot mural will be mounted on the exterior of Kenwood Academy. The smaller murals will be exhibited in neighborhood elementary schools during the academic year.

    The collaboration was funded by the Regent’s Park/University of Chicago Fine Arts Partnership.