Marvin Clerveau’s ‘Visions Hip-Hop QC’ spotlights Black culture in Quebec

PHI Centre hosts free exhibit showcasing the local rap scene’s history

Artist Marvin Clerveau shines a light on Quebec influential figures in the hip-hop industry. Photo Zachary Fortier

A vibrant display of cultural cause and effect, Visions Hip-Hop QC brings to life decades of Black performers’ music and personal lives. Haitian-Canadian artist Marvin Clerveau tells the stories of those who have shaped Quebec’s culture, and which factors have affected them.

The exhibit features 20 paintings by Clerveau of different figures prevalent in Montreal’s hip-hop and rap scenes. The paintings are oil on canvas, but also include an element of collage. Other parts of the exhibit feature boomboxes with interviews and music from some of the influential people present in the paintings.

There are also records, cassettes, and magazines centred around the musical genre present around the exhibit. Elements of augmented reality and virtual reality can also be seen throughout the project. A barcode near the entrance allows visitors to scan each painting and read about the lives, stories, and impacts the Quebec figures have had on the hip-hop scene. A VR headset shows a 3D gallery accompanied by Clerveau’s artistic process.

The exhibit features paintings, audio recording, records, cassettes, magazines, and a VR set. Photo Zachary Fortier

Every canvas is a portrait of an important figure in Quebec’s hip-hop scene, including rappers, singers, producers, radio hosts, and record label executives. One portrait specifically is an amalgamation of several deceased artists who had profound impacts on the local scene. What makes these paintings unique is that the portraits contain a collage of what inspires each specific artist, including family photos, city landmarks, other artists, and words of encouragement.

Some of the artists pictured in Clerveau’s series include rapper and radio host Dice B, rap group Rainmen, hip-hop artist Kella, rapper Akshun Man, and many others. Each artist has played an integral role in cementing Quebec’s hip-hop and rap scene. 

Clerveau had spent a year and a half putting the paintings together and could not be happier with his work. “These pieces are all homages. A lot of these artists are people I discovered while doing research for this project and learning about the history of hip-hop in Quebec. I think it’s important that these portraits be a starting point for visitors to discover this history,” he said.

“I think it’s important that these portraits be a starting point for visitors to discover this history.” — Marvin Clerveau

Vladimir Delva, the exhibit’s primary curator, also spoke on the evolution of rap music in Quebec and its impact on culture. “Currently, we’re living in a hybrid period for rap in Quebec. There’s a little bit of everything. I find that we are now in a period that is effervescent, not monolithic,” he said. “Young artists are making drill, trap, they’re renewing older sounds as well. The state of rap in Quebec is so fluid right now.”

A defining factor in the history of Quebec’s Black community, visitors learn as they journey through the exhibit, is institutional racism. Further into the exhibit, spectators are met with two television screens mounted on a purple wall, on which is written “Je ne me souviens pas”. 

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A video by the same name depicts a juxtaposition between Black artists’ contributions to Quebec’s musical history, and egregious displays of anti-Black violence committed by the State and citizens in the province.

‘Visions Hip-Hop QC’ celebrates artists from decades ago who have influenced hip-hop culture. Photo Zachary Fortier

Delva also touched on the presence of racism in the artistic process, and how traumatic experiences have shaped the way the artists represented in the painting showcase their talents. “Racism heavily informs the social, cultural, and political contexts of hip-hop’s four-decade-long history in Quebec. We can see the change in political discourse and how rap music has denounced the treatment of Black people in the province.”

Video clips of SPVM officers committing violence against Black Montrealers appeared at several instances in the video. When walking around Visions Hip-Hop QC, music denouncing police brutality was played in English and in French. 

Montreal R&B artist Shah Frank was one of several artists who could be heard through the boomboxes. She spoke about the guilt she felt about releasing her music around the time of George Floyd’s murder, but was encouraged by her support network that this was a time for Black art to be celebrated and uplifted.

This exhibit is not only a reminder of the socio-cultural context driving rap music in Quebec, but also a celebration of artists from decades ago who have influenced culture. February is Black History Month in Quebec, and Clerveau’s project is a true homage to music genres that would not exist without Black artists. 

Visions Hip-Hop QC will be exhibited at the PHI Centre until March 26. Tickets are available on their website.