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Still from Kendrick Lamar's “ELEMENT.” and Gordon Parks' “Untitled”

Kendrick Lamar's tribute to Gordon Parks is now an exhibit

“With ‘ELEMENT.’ the music video, Kendrick has helped to call attention to one of the most important artists of our time.”

Photographer Gordon Parks and Kendrick Lamar share a connection through the ages, and a new exhibition at The Gordon Parks Foundation in New York officially pairs their work together for the first time.

An activist, humanitarian and core figure in America’s civil rights movement, Parks’ fight against oppression and injustice saw him making films, composing music and writing books in his effort to highlight society’s diversity and its divisions. It was his intense creativity and tight focus on blackness which inspired Kendrick Lamar's 2017 video release “ELEMENT.”.

As Natty Kasambala wrote for Dazed, “The artistic link makes perfect sense, since Lamar's own music examines a similar agenda: in his unapologetically black sound, his political subject matter, and his purposeful visuals, from the LA-inspired project with Kahlil Joseph to his performance at the 2016 VMA’s commenting on mass incarceration.”

Kendrick directly references and revives a number of Parks’ images that explore the lives of African Americans in “ELEMENT.”, including 1963 photo Boy With JunebugUntitled, from Parks’ “Segregation Stories” series, and Ethel Sharrieff, from his “The White Man’s Day Is Almost Over” photo essay about black Muslims. It is these images that will be on show at the exhibition.

Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., the executive director of the foundation, said that Parks, who passed away in 2006, “is continuing to have a great impact on young people – and particularly on artists like Kendrick who, use the power of imagery to examine issues related to social justice and race in our country”. 

Kunhardt believes that Kendrick “has helped to call attention to one of the most important artists of our time”.

Swizz Beatz, a friend of Lamar's and patron of the foundation, added that it was “a prime example of how contemporary change makers – artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers – can borrow from the greats of the past who were also working towards social change.”

The exhibition is on show from December 1 to February 10