Since the birth of hip-hop 50 years ago, the genre has become among the most popular music styles. Among this year’s celebrations of hip-hop is an extensive exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum called “The Culture: Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century.”
Aaron Fowler is the St. Louis-born artist whose work is behind one of the exhibit’s centerpieces — a nine-foot long, five-foot high, and four-foot wide sculpture of shoes modeled after Nike’s iconic Air Force 1 sneakers.
The sculpture is made of recycled car parts and is the culmination of friendships fortified during the early days of the pandemic and the hip-hop spirit of making something out of nothing.
“I was very blessed to meet this guy, Domo, who came into an installation that I made at the Luminary. He hosted some dance battles with his group called Live Culture that’s underground [and] everything hip-hop — B-boy battles and everything.” Fowler told St. Louis on the Air. “[Domo] threw an event called Flow Fest, and I ended up making objects that reflect his movement and Live Culture. I ended up making the Air Force 1s to represent the dance battles and the B-boying aspect of his movement.”
Fashion is among the major elements explored in “The Culture.” Lil’ Kim’s wigs and Chance the Rapper’s signature baseball cap are two other examples. But for Fowler, sneakers are most important. “You want to be fresh. You want [a] fresh outfit, you want the shoes to match. Plus, shoes sort of have a story to them. For me, it’s reminiscent of my childhood,” he said.
While not a musician, Fowler says that he is, in fact, a hip-hop artist. “Before I really got into [visual art], I learned how to express myself mostly through hip-hop, this idea of making something out of nothing, using what you got around you to make things happen [and] doing it in a very free way, a very fresh way, not a contrived way —Just having a sense of freedom,” Fowler said. “ I feel like hip-hop sort of raised me, you know, gave me an attitude to be free and express myself.”
For more on Aaron Fowler’s art including how the loss of a dear loved one led him to painting during his high school years, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.
What: “The Culture: Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” exhibition
When: Aug. 19 through Jan. 1
Where: St. Louis Art Museum (One Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com.