Gold + Diamond RZA, 1994, chromogenic print signed by Sue Kwon
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Gold + Diamond RZA, 1994
Archival chromogenic print on Canson Platine Fibre Rag. Image 18¾ by 14¾ in. (47.6 x 37.5 cm.), sheet 20 by 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.). Numbered, titled, signed and dated in pencil to the reverse "1/5 Gold + Diamond RZA 1994 Sue Kwon NYC 2022." Overall excellent condition.
One of an edition of 5, signed by Kwon.
The New York City-based photographer, Sue Kwon, has been capturing the world of Hip Hop since the late 1980s and has witnessed the ascension of some of the genre's biggest stars. Educated at the Tisch School of the Arts, Kwon started her career at The Village Voice, documenting the poetic vibrancy of street life across the five boroughs. She soon began working for record labels such as Def Jam, Sony and Loud Records and her images went on to grace the pages of The Source, Vibe, and Paper magazines. Kwon has also published two critically celebrated books, Street Level in 2009 and most recently, Rap is Risen: New York Photographs 1988-2008 (Testify Books, 2021).
Through her commercial—yet nonetheless intimate—work, Kwon earned the trust of and access to artists like the late Biggie Smalls, Nas, Big Pun, Fat Joe, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Eminem, and the Wu-Tang Clan, of which the subject of the current lot, RZA, is the de-facto leader. Kwon reflects about the shoot below, in which a grinning RZA shows off a glittering vampire teeth grill inset with his initials:
"At the time I was experimenting with macro attachments on lenses. I don’t think anyone necessarily loves having the camera a few inches away from their face. But RZA was good natured about it as I explained I was trying to capture the essence of the stunning fronts he had on and that this closeup lensing would achieve it." (Sue Kwon)
The New Yorker reviewed Rap is Risen and Kwon's contributions to the culture in their February 2022 issue in an article titled "When Hip Hop Was Young." Below, writer Hua Hsu sums up what makes Kwon and her body of work with these artists so powerful and so unique:
"What made Sue Kwon one of the great photographers of Hip Hop’s ascension was her innate understanding of the tensions felt by so many of the artists. They were still learning how to dream. Back when everyone, from the artists to the promoters and managers who had arisen around them, was still figuring things out, her subjects were less infatuated with chart-topping pop stardom than with becoming local superheroes. The former seemed distant and impossible; the latter offered a way to craft a new origin story, to represent where they came from, even as they dreamed of going someplace else. In Kwon’s photographs, rappers and d.j.s are imperious one moment, vulnerable and down-to-earth the next, never far from the neighborhoods that made them."
In addition to her hometown of New York City, Kwon's work has been internationally exhibited in Tokyo, Paris, Copenhagen, Modena, and London, and is in the public collections of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum, the Alex Katz Foundation, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Speaking not only to lovers and devotees of Hip Hop and the explosion of culture and artistry it birthed, Kwon's work is a case study in capturing the intimacy of portraiture and the multi-faceted character of the subject while respecting the world in which she had been granted access.
Courtesy of the photographer
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