‘Visions Hip-Hop QC’ by Marvin Clerveau shines a light on black culture in Quebec
The PHI Center hosts a free exhibition showcasing the history of the local rap scene
A dynamic display of cultural cause and effect, Visions Hip-Hop QC brings to life decades of music and the personal lives of black artists. Haitian-Canadian artist Marvin Clerveau tells the stories of those who shaped Quebec culture and the factors that influenced them.
The exhibition presents 20 paintings by Clerveau of various figures present in the Montreal hip-hop and rap scenes. The paintings are oil on canvas, but also include a collage element. Other parts of the exhibit feature boomboxes with interviews and music from some of the influential people featured in the paintings.
There are also records, cassettes and magazines centered on the musical genre present around the exhibition. Augmented reality and virtual reality elements are also visible throughout the project. A barcode near the entrance allows visitors to scan each painting and read about the lives, stories and impacts of Quebec personalities on the hip-hop scene. A VR headset shows a 3D gallery accompanied by Clerveau’s artistic approach.
Each canvas is a portrait of an important figure in the Quebec hip-hop scene, including rappers, singers, producers, radio hosts and record company executives. One portrait in particular is an amalgamation of several deceased artists who had a profound impact on the local scene. What makes these paintings unique is that the portraits contain a collage of what inspires each specific artist, including family photos, city landmarks, other artists, and words of encouragement.
Some of the artists featured in Clerveau’s series include rapper and radio host Dice B, rap group Rainmen, hip-hop artist Kella, rapper Akshun Man, and many more. Each artist has played a vital role in cementing the Quebec hip-hop and rap scene.
Cleveau had spent a year and a half putting the paintings together and couldn’t be happier with his work. “These pieces are all tributes. Many of these artists are people I discovered while doing research for this project and learning about the history of hip-hop in Quebec. I think it is important that these portraits are a starting point for visitors to discover this history,” he said.
“I think it’s important that these portraits are a starting point for visitors to discover this history.”
Vladimir Delva, the main curator of the exhibition, also spoke about the evolution of rap music in Quebec and its impact on culture. “Currently, we are living in a hybrid period for rap in Quebec. There is a bit of everything. I find that we are now in an effervescent period, not monolithic,” he said. “Young artists do drill, trap, they also renew older sounds. The state of rap in Quebec is so fluid right now.
A defining factor in the history of Quebec’s black community, visitors learn through the exhibit, is institutional racism. Later in the exhibition, viewers are greeted by two television screens mounted on a purple wall, on which is written “I don’t remember”.
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A video of the same name depicts a juxtaposition between the contributions of black artists to Quebec’s musical history and blatant displays of anti-black violence committed by the state and citizens of the province.
Delva also spoke about the presence of racism in the artistic process and how traumatic experiences have shaped the way artists depicted in painting showcase their talents. “Racism strongly influences the social, cultural and political contexts of the four decades of hip-hop history in Quebec. We can see the change in political discourse and how rap music has denounced the treatment of black people in the province.
Video clips of SPVM officers committing acts of violence against black Montrealers appeared repeatedly in the video. While walking Visions Hip-Hop QCmusic denouncing police brutality was performed in English and French.
Montreal R&B artist Shah Frank was one of many artists who could be heard through the boomboxes. She spoke of the guilt she felt about releasing her music at the time of George Floyd’s murder, but was encouraged by her support network that now was a time to celebrate and elevate the art black.
This exhibition is not only a reminder of the socio-cultural context that animates rap music in Quebec, but also a celebration of artists from decades ago who influenced the culture. February is Black History Month in Quebec, and Clerveau’s project is a true tribute to musical genres that wouldn’t exist without black artists.
Visions Hip-Hop QC will be on display at the PHI Center until March 26. Tickets are available on their website.