Magee McIlvaine’s Photos Capture Language Of Hip-Hop


Bocafloja, one of Mexico’s most influential hip hop artists, progressive thinkers, and creative minds. (Magee McIlvane)

Photographer Magee McIlvaine grew up in sub-Saharan Africa—in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo before moving to the U.S. while in high school. Despite feeling like an outsider to some degree in each new location, it was hip-hop that made him feel at home. In the exhibit Comunidad, Communauté, Community. at ReCreative Spaces, McIlvane’s photography demonstrates the friendship and collaboration inherent to hip-hop, a universal language that connects people across physical and cultural boundaries.

The exhibit culls 25 photos from McIIvaine’s trove of portraits and behind-the-scenes shots that capture his work and relationships with hip-hop artists in such locations as Burkina Faso, Mexico, Senegal, South Africa, the U.S., and more.

A documentary filmmaker, McIlvane co-directed Democracy in Dakar and Democracy in Paris, which look at Senegalese communities in their native land and as immigrants. He is also the creative director of Nomadic Wax, where he has produced collaborative projects including mixtapes, tours, and exchanges with international hip-hop artists. The photographs included in Comunidad, Communauté, Community emerged from these latter projects.

Most of the photos were not made during a formal photo shoot. “It was more like were doing a music video shoot or someone crashed at my place in D.C. or I crashed at their place in Zimbabwe, and they just sort of happened spontaneously,” says McIlvaine.Music enabled him to make connections wherever he was. “Obviously, I was not Zambian or I wasn’t Tanzanian, but then I also wasn’t American or Washingtonian. Hip-hop was one of the main things that provided a common ground and a way to relate to people from different places as I moved in and out of many different communities,” says McIlvaine.

Through his work with Nomadic Wax, which uses music, media, and the arts to promote social change and cultural exchange, he has traveled extensively and connected and collaborated with like-minded artists. The photos also explore his relationships within D.C.’s hip-hop scene with both local artists and artists from African nations and black communities around the world.

Comunidad, Communauté, Community. includes photos taken over the course of a decade, and serves as a personal record. “When I look back on that time now it seems less about the projects [with Nomadic Wax]—the projects were great; I love them—but it is more that I’m really excited about all of these different friends that I have all over the world where we’ve shared these experiences,” he says.

With a mix of portraits and action shots, his photos capture real life in beautifully composed images. McIlvaine’s tightly cropped photos highlight facial expressions, hairstyles, tattoos, and clothing, and create an intimate experience for the viewer. To add context to the work, he has composed narratives to share the stories behind the images.

The show aligns with the mission of ReCreative Spaces, which opened in 2014 and moved to Mount Rainier two years ago. The venue includes studio space for artists and develops diverse programming and exhibits. Co-found and director Emily Arden Eakland has followed McIlvaine’s documentary work for a long time and explains that he will determine the show’s look and layout. “It’s really important to me that the shows here reflect the aesthetic and values of the artists who are showing,” says Eakland, who sees the gallery as a meeting place for the local community.

This local community is part of the global community. “[The photos] are about the memories and experiences that I am reminded of when I see these faces,” says McIlvane. “They are about a diverse and vibrant group of artists, people who embrace geographic, cultural and linguistic differences, and have forged ahead to create a beautiful community, and create beautiful art together.”

Comunidad, Communauté, Community. will be on view from July 7 – September 29, 2017 at ReCreative Spaces, 3501 Perry Street, Mount Rainier, MD. The opening reception on July 7 includes a chance to meet the artist, plus a live DJ + freestyle cipher with local and international emcees featured in the exhibition, including Bocafloja (Mexico), Waterflow (Senegal), Dumi Right (Zimbabwe), and Kokayi (DC).

Listen to a Nomadic Wax Mixtape

This mixtape is a combination of audio/radio documentary and traditional hip hop mixtape formats. It takes audio interviews from around the world addressing the theme of “home” and pairs it with original verses from emcees from all over the world. Listen here.

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