Blacktown locals mix it up with Beuys, Picasso and Warhol


It’s Our Thing is inspired by some of Australia’s founding hip-hop crews and artists who worked in and around Blacktown in the 1990s. It examines the emergence of this unique and diverse sub-culture. Works by Khaled Sabsabi and Minky Rawat are presented alongside pieces by iconic artists such as Joseph Beuys, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Hip-hop is a largely collaborative endeavour and this aspect, along with the overall style of hip-hop culture, appear to have greatly influenced both Sabsabi and Rawat.

Archival material such as pamphlets, cassette tapes, photographs, records and jewellery from the artist’s personal collections make up a significant part of the exhibition and present a fascinating tribute to and insight into the sub-culture and the artists themselves.

Rawat’s enamel and aerosol on canvas work, Flowers in Form, 2016, is perfectly juxtaposed against Andy Warhol’s Flowers, 1970. Both images seem to jump off the canvas in a mass of vibrant colours and contrasts. Rawat became interested in graffiti from the defaced seats of Sydney trains he saw while travelling to and from school.

Both Rawat and Sabsabi were involved in hip-hop throughout the 1980s, and Sabsabi was part of the group COD (Count on Damage). It was here that the artist began experimenting with sound and poetry in ways which would inform his future artistic practice. Select works by Beuys and Picasso are exhibited as key influences on Sabsabi’s practice, but they don’t have the same instant visual symmetry as the Rawat with the Warhol.

Background: Khaled Sabsabi, 70,000 Veils, 2014, digital 1080 Progressive Scan PAL HD Video, MP4 Format, each channel 700 seconds, 100 parts, 400 x 1320 x 100cm. Foreground: Street Level Archive & It’s Our Thing Plinth Installation. Photograph by Emily McTaggart.

Words form a large part of It’s Our Thing. In particular Sabsabi’s God Complex and God Complex 2, 2016, use phrases repeated and stencilled on to light boxes. With a clever play on words, in which god and devil are spelled backwards as dog and lived, the artist draws on his early experimentation with hip-hop and the words are so over used that they become obscure and a blur of colour and form.

Dominating the gallery space is Sabsabi’s 70,000 Veils, 2014, a multichannel video work consisting of two walls of television screens displaying what appears to be disjointed surveillance footage. When viewed through 3D glasses, the visuals come alive and venture into the space between, making the audience feel as if they only need to reach out to touch it. So abstract is the imagery that it melds into shapes and colours, reminiscent of graffiti and sketches.

It’s Our Thing is the first in what is set to be a series of exhibitions around the history of Australian hip-hop, a history bursting with colour, diversity and the language of movement and sound.

It’s Our Thing
Blacktown Arts Centre
2 June – 6 August

Preview Words by Naomi Gall