Hip-hop in Dance and Photography: Raphael Xavier exhibits visual art at Dupree Gallery

Xavier Out of Time 1As hip-hop culture became pop culture, its signature early choreography disappeared underground. Raphael Xavier practiced and studied break-dancing religiously. After touring with Rennie Harris PureMovement, he created his own dance work and choreography informed by break-dancing, making a name for himself in the dance world, winning a Guggenheim Fellowship and Pew Fellowship. Now, Xavier explores hip-hop practice in a different medium with Out of Time, a first time solo visual art exhibition opening next week at James Dupree Gallery.

“I’ve spent twenty years as a professional dancer and visual artist,” says Xavier, “The visual part has been under the radar for a long time. Photography was a big influence on the dance work I was making early on. I would see the stage as a frame, so everything on it I would set up with composition in mind.”

Xavier’s early experiences of graffiti and the physical art of the dance translated into visual art. He recorded and embodied the abstract styles of dance, which influenced his eye as a photographer.

“My aims in dance and visual art are similar because I’m looking to continue exploring the possibilities of improvisation and being happy with the unexpected results, says Xavier. “Dance at this point in my life is about improvisation and the concept of not having a plan but just react. Where ever I end up is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ll just get to where I want to go, and I should be satisfied with that.”

“My visual art was the same way.” Xavier continues. “I began shooting with film in the 80s. I’d leave with a plan to photograph something. But on my way I’d see things I didn’t plan to shoot. I’d adjust the settings and shoot without a meter. The images would come out nothing like I planned. And I was happy with the unexpected. I couldn’t have planned it better.”

His improvisation prowess is distinctive in dance and is apparent in his art work that narrates an abstracted perspective of hip hop history from its origin, through the peaks and down falls of the Breaker in hip-hop culture. Xavier emphasizes his approach to practices of the hip-hop genre with a body of visual art that encompasses exploration, improvisation, boundaries, and limits. Out of Time is an abstract history of hip-hop told through designs that represent a life long practice and process, translating into a theoretical conversation about the African American experience at the heart of a worldwide phenomena called Breaking.

Xavier met James Dupree in 2016 when he hired him to do the artwork for RAPHSTRAVAGANZA, an outdoor circus in the City Hall Courtyard which was funded in part by Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Poor Richards Charitable Trust. At that time Xavier was experimenting with oil and acrylic paints. When he lost years of paintings in a basement flood, he restarted his visual art-making with new calmness to his work and thought-process.

“Everybody began to take notice,” remembers Xavier. “Everything fell into place over the 5 year period. It was 13 years of shooting abandoned bicycles around the world, a showing of those photographs at the Painted Bride, a showing of the same series at City Hall Art Gallery, a residency at MacDowell Artist Colony, another showing of dance photography and paintings at the Annenberg Center and dance photography at City Hall Art Gallery for Jazz Month. Of course I can contribute it to everything happening for a reason.” When Dupree told Xavier he should showcase his art at a gallery, Xavier asked if it could be his.

Out of Time will showcase Xavier’s photography and paintings from the last 20 years. The gallery will host short performances and readings by Xavier and guest performers August 11, 18, and 25,

“Art in general continues to be a platform to find something in myself that could mask any negativity going on around me,” says Xavier. Xavier continues movement through the tideway of mind and body to explore what he feels is the connection between the African American art form, the Black Renaissance and Breaking: to decipher, disrupt, take apart, and put back together to find solutions. “Ultimately, we’re all going to run ‘out of time’.”

Exhibition Dates: Saturday, August 4-Sept 30th
Location: 703 S 6th street
Opening time: 5pm-10pm, by appointment.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.