As hip hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, its icons are being celebrated through music, screen and now, through sculpture. Sherwin Banfield has turned his love for genre into art, immortalizing some of its greatest pioneers like LL COOL J, Biggie and Phife Dawg in larger-than-life statues.
"When forming my artistic identity, I realized I needed to talk about my influences, and hip hop played a major role in my life growing up," Banfield tells EBONY. But it was a trip to Austria that set him on this sculpting path.
"My wife and I were invited to a wedding in the country. While sightseeing, I noticed that there were so many things devoted to their hometown hero Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: statues, restaurants and coffee shops. Everywhere you look, there's this musical genius propped up so that folks can visit his home. I wanted to bring that home for hip hop in New York and make monuments for these artists."
Banfield shares more about the sculptures and his personal inspiration for their designs.
LL COOL J
Standing more than 8 feet tall, The G.O.A.T. Monument/ Going Back to the Meadows is a monumental sculpture that includes a slightly larger-than-life-size cast bronze portrait of the rapper-turned-media mogul. Using traditional methods of modeling clay, it references LL COOL J’s early bucket hat and gold rope chain era. "Its title is a play on words of the hit track 'Going back to Cali' by the Queens hip hop legend, who is also known for populating the term Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T)," Banfield shares.
"The bronze bust sits atop a polished stainless steel and clear resin boombox design with an embedded cassette tape of his first album Radio. The boombox is decorated with Egyptian-influenced bronze relief animal designs on each side. On the rear, you will find a solar panel plastered with his name. The other has the quote of LL’s grandmother that which he carries with him till this day: 'If a task is once begun, never leave until it’s done/Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.' These panels power the audio system that plays a mix of LL’s hits by Rock the Bells DJ Mister Cee.'"
Going Back to the Meadows’ is supported by New York City Parks and Recreation with the Art in the Parks: Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park Grant. See it at The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame Museum in Stony Brook, New York.
Known as Sky’s the Limit in the County of Kings, this sustainable Sonic Sculptural tribute is dedicated to the legacy of Christopher ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace. The art piece stands at 9 feet tall and is made of bronze, resin, stainless steel, winterstone and wood, and has a lighting and audio system that runs on solar power playing an exclusive mix Curated by DJ Mister Cee. "Biggie was instrumental to my life, especially during my freshman year at Parsons School of Design. I remember I was in my dorm room and my neighbor across the hall told me she had this new Biggie Smalls tape. I went over to listen and it blew my mind," Banfield recalls. "I decided to continue my Sonic Hip Hop Sculpture projects of mixing something traditional like bronze sculpted portrait busts with new technology and materials like solar power, built-in audio, stainless steel and resin. Influenced by modern architecture and medieval armory, I designed his body to reflect his environment using polished stainless steel while representing an armor of sorts.
"Lyrics from standout records from his career were the inspiration for spot illustrative designs in stainless steel, while the front steel panel covered in African and Jamaican land structures showcase the genetic code of the rhythm and drum that migrated from Africa to Brooklyn via Biggie’s bloodline. The steel plate rusts over time from the elements of Brooklyn as a metaphor for Brooklyn’s influence on lived experiences of The Notorious BIG. Lastly, his hands are offering two objects: a heart and a crowned microphone. The heart is a symbol of his large and caring heart known within his inner circle and via his message, 'Spread Love, it's the Brooklyn Way’ and the microphone represents his throne—his voice—offering it up to the next generation of talent to be the future King of New York. In the words of B.I.G., 'Where Brooklyn at?'”
Sky’s the Limit in the County of Kings is made possible by a grant from the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, a partnership with Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Improvement District as part of New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. See it at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program through November 2023.
Trini Gladiator is a 9-foot-tall sonic sculpture dedicated to Jamaica, Queens Trinidadian rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. "Originally part of a three-part sculpture called A Cypher in Queens, this sculpture is a celebration of Queens Hip Hop contributions, its sonic impact on the world and the unique artistry of three fallen Queens hip hop Icons," Banfield explains. "The Sculptural Cypher includes Jam Master Jay of Run-D.M.C.; Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Phife. The Trini Gladiator statue includes a built-in audio system with an audio mix by fellow friend and previous manager DJ Rasta Roots."