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September 27, 2021

MoPOP Announces New Traveling Exhibition CONTACT HIGH: A VISUAL HISTORY OF HIP-HOP Opening October 16

SEATTLE, WA (September 27, 2021) - The Museum of Pop Culture today announced the opening of the traveling exhibition Contact High: A Visual History Of Hip-Hop. Coming to MoPOP October 16, Contact High explores four decades of photography, from the late 1970s to today, documenting a revolution not just in music, but in politics, race relations, fashion, and culture. Through more than 170 iconic images of hip-hop's most influential artists (Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah, Tupac, and more) — including contact sheets that give us a rare glimpse into the creative process of a photo session — Contact High examines the evolution of hip-hop, connecting us with the experiences, identities, and places that have shaped the world’s most popular music genre.

The exhibition is included in MoPOP general admission or with a MoPOP membership. Details >> 

While the music was establishing itself as a cultural force, photographers were on the scene, documenting the urban spaces where hip-hop came alive. The music reflected everyday experience; the images captured and memorialized it, providing a necessary perspective — sometimes empowering, sometimes controversial.

A single image can define a decisive moment, creating an instant icon. And that’s exactly the point. Photography has helped shape hip-hop, which has always been about self-definition. Press photos and album covers announce the arrival of the style, swagger, bravado, singularity, and artistry that help the performer become an icon. For this genre that speaks truth to power, reclaims and concretizes identity, idealizes self-representation, and visualizes political rhetoric, the images are inseparable from the music.

Today, moments become decisive on Instagram, and the shift to digital photography has made the contact sheet pretty much obsolete. Contact High pays tribute to the way a new genre reinvented popular music—back when nobody knew where hip-hop could go or how long it might last, back before hip-hop exploded worldwide.

“Hip-hop is more than music, encompassing fashion, politics, identity, and self-expression, and Contact High celebrates the richness of this cultural force,” said MoPOP Curator Amalia Kozloff. “Most importantly, hip-hop continues to deliver on its original mission: to give voice to everyday people and communities, which is essential to contemporary calls for racial and social justice.”

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Exclusive images of some of hip-hop’s biggest influences, including Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah, Kanye West, and Tupac Shakur.
  • More than 75 unedited contact sheets ranging from Barron Claiborne’s iconic Notorious B.I.G. portraits to images of Aaliyah, Wu-Tang Clan, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Kanye West.
  • The Dapper Dan jacket made for Rakim and MF DOOM’s mask.
  • In addition to photographs, artifacts from MoPOP’s permanent collection such as early rap battle fliers, Grandmaster Flash’s turntables, Tupac Shakur manuscripts, Flavor magazines, and costumes from Sha-Rock and The Notorious B.I.G., add to our understanding of hip-hop culture.
  • A documentary short film featuring Contact High photographers at work and in conversation, including Barron Claiborne, Brian “B+” Cross, Eric Coleman, Estevan Oriol, Jorge Peniche, Jamel Shabazz, Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, Jack McKain, Dana Scruggs, and Danny Clinch. The film is produced by the Annenberg Foundation and Radical Media.

Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop was made possible by the Annenberg Space for Photography + International Center of Photography. Curator Vikki Tobak, Creative Director Fab 5 Freddy. Based on the Book CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak.

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MoPOP is a leading-edge nonprofit museum in Seattle, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary pop culture. With a mission to make creative expression a life-changing force by offering experiences that inspire and connect our communities, MoPOP reaches multigenerational audiences through our collections, exhibitions, educational programs and community partnerships. At MoPOP, artists, audiences, and ideas converge, bringing understanding, interpretation, and scholarship to the pop culture of our time. 


MoPOP, Marketing Communications