Dust and Dignity explores the social importance of album art at The Painted Bride - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
DJ Skeme Richards, one of the curators of Dust & Dignity | photo courtesy of the artist

For the better part of the last four decades, the City of Philadelphia has been known for having some of the world’s best DJs. In addition to being technically proficient and possessing an expansive knowledge of music, many of our city’s DJs also have a reputation for injecting a deep social consciousness into their craft that influences the music that they play, educating listeners while moving butts on the dancefloor.

Bruce Campbell Jr. (aka DJ Junior) is one such DJ whose musical talents intersect with his desire to educate and speak to greater social issues such as race, poverty and our country’s educational system. Dust + Dignity, the multimedia art exhibition that Campbell has curated opening tonight at The Painted Bride is a culmination of those interests and mission.

Despite Campbell’s solid musical pedigree as owner of Philly based progressive soul/hip-hop label, Record Breakin’ Music and partners with DJ Lil’ Dave on WKDU’s Eavesdrop Radio, it was his experiences in the classroom that seeded the idea of curating an exhibition highlighting the ways in which music and art speaks to deeper Social realities.

DJ Cosmo Baker

Philly’s DJ Cosmo Baker co-curated the Painted Bride’s Dust & Dignity exhibit | Photo courtesy of the artist

“I’m a professor at Arcadia University in the school of education and one of the courses I teach is about the Opportunity Gap in America,” he says. “A lot of our conversations in class, with all of this stuff going on in our society, what do we do? What is the music and art community saying about this?” Artists around the world have being using their mediums to speak out against police brutality, systemic poverty and oppression and the tragic injustices that seem to reach even greater levels of tragic absurdity everyday.

Despite these efforts, Campbell wonders if more “It seems like people are It was with this mission in mind that Campbell connected with co­organizers Angie Asombrosa and Sarah Mueller (Founder of Philly based Alternative Cinema non­profit CineSPEAK) to round out the team.

Described by the exhibition’s curators as “an educational experience promoting dialogue and advancing social justice through the exploration between music and visual art.”, Dust + Dignity is a 20-day multimedia exhibition centered around a diverse collection of vinyl album artwork Curated by Campbell and a quartet of Philly-based DJs – Skeme Richards, Rich Medina, King Britt and Cosmo Baker – who happen to be among the world’s finest. Each album cover was hand selected by the curators in order to highlight the connection between socially conscious music and imagery. “I was the only person who knew all of the records that were selected. In each person’s collection there are certain pieces that made me think, why did they pick THAT record?”

When asked to highlight a contribution of significance, King Britt’s choice was unexpected, highlighting the ways in which our personal relationship to art can be highly political. “I say this a lot because it’s not so obvious, but Fishbone’s debut EP. Seeing young Black youth dressing like me and making music that I love really changed the way I was thinking growing up in Southwest Philly, where alternative kids were not welcomed as openly. I loved all things that were different from my environment because it gave me a sense of having more. Seeing them said to me that I can do that too.”

Opening tonight at the legendary Painted Bride Art Center, the Dust + Dignity exhibition will feature extensive video interviews with each of the curators discussing their selections and sharing thoughts on the project’s themes. The exhibition’s attendees will also be treated to a mix of socially conscious music selected by Philly’s own DJ Lil’ Dave.

Dust + Dignity will be open for viewing throughout March with an Exhibition Party and Pop­Up Shop with DJs, a panel discussion, Vendors and refreshments on the 18th.

In an interview with Pop Music historian Robert Benson, vinyl preservationist and founder of Vinyl Record Day (different from Record Store Day) Gary Freiberg addressed the socio­political significance of album cover art as it has evolved throughout the years. “Album cover art depicts the many cultural aspects and changes society has gone through unlike any other art form. Fashion, politics, racial views, lifestyles, we can follow our cultural evolution through Album Cover Art. The early fifties had Moms in cocktail dresses, Dad in a tie and the kids scrubbed and fresh. In the sixties The Beatles and Stones encouraged kids to have long hair, John Travolta sold a lot of white Disco suits. Each era has it’s own personality and fashion that is communicated through both the music and the accompanying cover art.”

Dust + Dignity seeks to illuminate what listeners, DJs and vinyl collectors have known for sometime; that the artwork and covers of some of our favorite records have as much to say about the world we live in as the music that they contain.

Dust and Dignity opens tonight at The Painted Bride and runs through March 24th. For more information, visit the Painted Bride website.

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