Buddhism and B-boys?

Buddhism and hip-hop are as different as can be. And yet African-American artist Sanford Biggers, who spent two years teaching English in Nagoya, Japan, sees a connection between the two.

"There's a correlation between hip-hop being adopted by many cultures, and Buddhism being globalized," he explains, "and a co-opting of the underground or sacred societies of hip-hoppers, break-dancers, B-boys and Buddhists."

You can get your FUBU at Macy's and your Zen tea at Starbucks. Mass consumption strips the original meaning from both traditions but, at least for Biggers, also somehow brings them closer together.

The artist combines hip-hop and Buddhist symbols in "Afrotemple," his new installation at the Contemporary Arts Museum. In one work, Biggers cast five Buddha figures in clear resin and placed fat shoelaces, a microphone, African masks, wristbands and fake jewelry inside. For another, he made a dance floor that reflects the design of the Buddhist mandala.

Biggers sees value in the wear and tear of objects, finding his materials in thrift stores, junkyards and abandoned buildings. "Particularly older found objects," he says, "have their own history."

While Biggers lives in New York, his parents are from Houston, and he has spent many a summer here. He's dedicating this show to the memory of Texas artist and family friend John Biggers, who died a year ago. "I'm a big fan of his and always have been," says Biggers of the other, well-loved artist, who used African and astrological imagery in his work and taught at Texas Southern University.

Are the two related? "I met him a few times," says Biggers. "There was a resemblance between him and my father, so we decided we might as well be cousins. Okay, we're cousins." Kind of like Buddhism and hip-hop.

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow