‘A message in the music’

An exhibit aims to bring attention to social justice issues through album artwork.

Cosmo Baker, one of the five DJs that will help host the “Dust + Dignity’” exhibit, spins records at Scratch DJ Academy in Old City. | KAIT MOORE TTN

Angie Asombrosa has spent her life in love with vinyl.

An avid collector since the age of 13, Asombrosa grew up looking through her father’s records, quickly falling in love with the vinyl format.

Out of this love came the name of her upcoming project: “Dust + Dignity.”

“Dignity because every human being deserves respect, you know, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings,” Asombrosa said. “And the dust part is from the actual vinyl format. It gets dusty, dust clings to wax. I know from my years personally collecting vinyl and coughing up my lungs in dust. ‘Dust + Dignity.’ It just clicked and made sense to me.”

“Dust + Dignity” is an upcoming music and art exhibition where 100 album cover artwork will be displayed with the intention of starting a dialogue about social justice and injustices. The exhibit will debut March 4 at the Painted Bride Art Center and run through the end of the month.

“We gave five DJs the task of selecting 20 different album covers from their personal collections that evoke social justice, and that’s all we said,” said Bruce Campbell, an organization and DJ known as DJ Junior. “We didn’t tell them anything else. We told them that they should pick the releases either based on the artwork or the music behind the artwork.”

The exhibit will be a museum style display, with an accompanying audio portion featuring interviews from the five DJs, explaining in depth why they picked their records and what social justice means to them. Attendees will be able to download a mixtape with audio from the interviews, as well as songs from the selected albums.

“We’re going to have the video also online, so even people who are not able to come to the exhibit, they’ll be able to also get some sort of online experience of what we’re doing,” Campbell said.

Organizers include Campbell, an education professor at Arcadia University, radio show host and record label owner. Asombrosa also reached out to other prominent record collectors in the city to contribute albums from their collections, like Cosmo Baker, Rich Medina, Skeme Richards and King Britt.

While the educational aspect of the exhibit is hugely important, Asombrosa believes “Dust + Dignity” is, at its heart, a way to bring the community together in a dialogue of awareness.

“Especially since this past year … what’s been going on in the world from Sandra Bland, everything that’s happening, how things have been repeating,” Asombrosa said. “In the ‘60s and the ‘70s we had people like Gil Scott-Heron, we had Curtis Mayfield, we had those musicians who were trying to voice those struggles, those injustices via album artwork. There’s always been a message in the music.”

“Dust + Dignity,” a new exhibit at the Painted Bride Art Center, features album artwork. | KAIT MOORE TTN
“Dust + Dignity,” a new exhibit at the Painted Bride Art Center, features album artwork. | KAIT MOORE TTN

“I would like it to bring people together,” Asombrosa added. “That’s first and foremost. I would like it to be a message as to how unfortunately this is happening now, but it’s been happening. It’s been happening, so there has to be something to make it stop.”

Baker, a well known DJ and Philadelphia native, is excited for the reemergence of album artwork as an important part of the experience of music.

“The art of the cover art is something that has been lost, it’s something you can’t necessarily get when you’re looking at a digital format,” Baker said. “An inch and a half-by-inch and a half square with some design on it doesn’t necessarily convey the message with the same gravity and the same weight as when you actually look at something the size of an LP or 12-inch.”

On the opening night of the exhibition the albums will be revealed, and the DJs will see for the first time what albums the others chose. The exhibit will also feature a DJ showcase on March 18. Contributors to the project will be in attendance to talk about their album artwork choices.

“I would like to see compassion,” Campbell said. “I would like to see support for the other, so support for other communities. In a grassroots sort of way, I would like to see people figure out what they could do to help the cause.”

Morgan Slutzky can be reached at morgan.slutzky@temple.edu.

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