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Hip hop video installation stirs debate about female identity

8:36:44 AM CDT - Thursday, February 12, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

While you're still debating Janet Jackson's bodice-ripping moment during primetime television's Feb. 1 Super Bowl, take note of another provocative event coming up on campus at the end of the month.

"Dances with Hip Hop" is artist Susan Smith-Pinelo's video ode to the rhythm and rhymes of rap that attract yet repel her with their accompanying violent and misogynous MTV images.

The Ulrich Museum of Art will unveil the new video acquisition and host a panel discussion on its messages at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 29, the cusp of Black History Month and Women's History Month.

"I'm impressed with the scale of this installation," says David Butler, director of the Ulrich Museum. "It's as big as a person, and occupies the space like an actual person."

"Dances with Hip Hop" features three TV monitors stacked one atop the other and suspended from the ceiling by wired hardware. The upper monitor shows the artist's head grooving to a silent beat, while the middle and bottom monitors display, respectively, the bra-clad torso and panty-covered hips of two other women, also dancing silently. The body parts perform separately but occasionally pause at the same break or move to one side of the monitors, gelling as a whole.

It is a media presentation all about media presentation, says Butler. Smith-Pinelo, a Washington, D.C., feminist in her 30s, breaks down the female body to highlight the parts most featured in hip hop videos.

Chinyere Okafor, associate professor of women's studies, is one of the panelists who will critique and answer questions about "Dances with Hip Hop."

"I don't need to go to the exhibition to know that women are exploited in popular culture," says Okafor. But she is interested in advancing the discussion, she says, about attitudes toward women.

As for Jackson and the singing partner who ripped open her bustier, Justin Timberlake, one of the questions Okafor raises is, why was one person immediately focused on (the woman), and not the other?

"It reminds me of the saying that the woman got herself pregnant," she says, talking about the different expectations society holds for men and women.

"Dances with Hip Hop" highlights those and other concerns, says Butler. "It raises all kinds of issues."

"Dances with Hip Hop" will be unveiled and viewed during a panel discussion at 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 29, at the Ulrich Museum, in conjunction with Black History Month and Women's History Month.



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