Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver Talks about the VMFA’s Take on Hip Hop and ‘The Dirty South’

By Marion Maneker, For Art News

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s ground-breaking exhibition, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, is the brainchild of curator Valerie Cassel Oliver. The show brings together several pressing themes in American culture—the essential place of African American art forms in American life and the unique dialogue between art, music and objects of everyday life found in Southern culture.

“Before joining the Virginia museum, she spent 16 years at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston and led the visiting-artist program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.Now she’s taking on a new challenge: organizing a show about the widespread influence of Black Southern Hip Hop on American culture.We caught up with the curator about her curatorial interests, her podcast obsessions, and what artists she’s been looking at lately”.

“That call and response between the visual artists and the musicians,” Oliver says in this “ARTnews Live” interview, provoked her interest in the project. The show was also born of her  admiration and affection for Southern hip-hop. “The rise of Southern hip-hop really gave a new sense of pride . . . of being Southern” she says. Looking at the genre’s videos and listening to its music, Oliver discerned three main motifs: landscape, religion, and the Black body. The exhibition is organized around these three elements.

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