The Balkans Project

Words and art from the Balkans

Iona Rozeal Brown

Iona Rozeal Brown, born in Washington, DC in 1966 works and lives in Maryland.

“For Iona Rozeal Brown black culture without the blackness represents a strange new breed. She addresses specifically the Japanese version of Hip Hop, called anything from Nip-Hop to J-Hop. Through the traditional style of the Japanese woodblock print, Ukiyo-E, Brown’s work plays with the ideas of blackface and the the idea of transformative cultural gestures. In either case the result is hybrid of culture made up of equal parts Japanese and Hip Hop Black Culture”

–from Say it LOUD! Nikki S. Lee and Iona Rozeal Brown: A Hip-Hop Converstaion

"you opened my eyes man, thought I had a man, but how could I eye scan," 2004

You Opened My Eyes, Man, thought I had a man, but how could I eye scan 2004

back in 1997, i read an article in Transitions written by Joe Wood. it was titled “The Yellow Negro,” and subsequently introduced me to a group of Japanese youth called ganguro who darkened their skin and paid top dollar to have their hair permed into afros.

sure, i’d seen white youth here in the states hang out with black youth, adapt the pimp/stroll/gait, the slang/lingo/lexicon, the whole nine. Bo Derek took it to new heights with those cornrows. and then these Japanese youth were trying to be as black as they could. this was different.

one way for me to talk about the ganguro is with the help of Japanese woodblock prints from the Edo period. Ukioy-e, the floating world, was a time of decadence: new art forms, high fashion, geisha, samurai – codes, honorifics, passages, accoutrements, style-flossing, whips, bling, rhymes, beats, cutting, scratching, fresh gear, dope ropes, b-boy stances, sampling.

i re-present these prints to represent the present while maintaining connections with the past. hip-hop, and therefore black culture (should) do the same thing. although not always receiving a fair cut, if any cut at all, black people have supplied, and continue to supply the world with marketable talents. “you all and your music. you’re just so FREE!” this freedom emitted by hip-hop, jazz, gospel, blues, the djembe, speaks, attracts, seduces, mesmerizes, hypnotizes, educates and engulfs.

…blackness…coolness …freedom…free like we?…they don’t know who we be (DMX)…we real cool (Gwendolyn Brooks)…cool like dat (Digable Planets…check the jazz group in the video).

part of the romantic idea is that we are all mirror images of each other. beyond the ganguro phenomenon, there are many connections between these two cultures; on a good day, the relationship is reciprocal, the dark-faced ganguro may not be popular anymore, but the acquisition of hip-hop accoutrements, both visual and verbal, is vogue, fly, fresh…you get the picture.

iona rozeal brown

<i>All Falls Down<i> 2008

All Falls Down 2008