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Living Like Kings: The unexpected collision of chess and Hip Hop culture at the World Chess Hall of Fame
Left: Jerger Chess Clock. Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of John Donaldson. Right: Living Like Kings film stills, 2014. Courtesy of of Benjamin Kaplan.


SAINT LOUIS, MO.- This fall, the World Chess Hall of Fame invites visitors into a world of battle, strategy, creativity, and passion; a world where lessons are hard-won and success does not come without sacrifice.

Living Like Kings: The Unexpected Collision of Chess and Hip Hop Culture is an exhibition that explores the surprising ways in which the ancient game of chess intersects with the powerful, creative expression in hip hop culture, which includes music, fashion, art, dance, and spirituality.

“The concept for Living Like Kings began when WCHOF’s team was introduced to Adisa Banjoko, an author and educator who founded the nonprofit Hip Hop Chess Federation in San Francisco, CA. Adisa fuses chess and hip hop to promote peace, knowledge, and self-reliance among young people. This has been the inspiration for our ground-breaking art exhibition,” said Shannon Bailey, chief curator at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

The exhibition is centered on an immersive, multimedia experience created by Saint Louis artist Benjamin Kaplan. Commissioned by WCHOF, the installation includes archival and original video, music and photography, custom-designed type and illustration, and a series of interviews. Kaplan weaves these pieces together to create a linear narrative that will literally surround visitors in sound and sight using inventive projection techniques. The piece is executive produced by Nicole Hudson.

Kaplan’s piece is approximately 20 minutes in length and will be shown in WCHOF’s first floor gallery. It touches on themes that chess and hip hop share: history, strategy, spirituality, process, creativity, education, and symbolism. Interviewees for the piece include Banjoko, International Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, Eugene Brown (founder of Big Chair Chess Club, Inc.), Dr. Daaim Shabazz (founder of thechessdrum.net), and woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade.

“Benjamin’s piece creates a potent storyline that takes viewers on twists and turns and leaves them with the realization that there are connections in the world they never knew existed. These new ways of looking at things are beneficial to everyone — no matter if they play chess, love hip hop, or are just curious about this exceptional show,” said Bailey.

Learning Lab
WCHOF’s second floor gallery serves as a companion Learning Lab for the Living Like Kings exhibition. The lab allows visitors to participate in the show through interactive music and video stations, hands-on art opportunities, and educational presentations.

The Learning Lab opens with graffiti-inspired exhibitions by two local artists. Photographer Adrian O. Walker’s powerful images of graffiti from the St. Louis area showcase an art form that many consider vandalism, but is often beautiful and extremely vibrant.

Artist Daniel Burnett is curating a series of murals that make up Pieces and Placement, an exhibition that will be created by a team of artists throughout the run of Living Like Kings. Each month, a new artist will create a work based upon a different chess piece, beginning with Burnett’s images of the pawn. Subsequent months will feature work by Christopher Burch, Ruben Aguirre, Ben Pierce, Stan Chisholm, and Nice & Lucx.

Living Like Kings opens on October 9, 2014, and runs through April 26, 2015. Admission to the first floor gallery is free with a $5 per person recommended donation.

Local artist Peat “EYEZ” Wollaeger was commissioned to create companion murals that is displayed in the first floor gallery alongside Kaplan’s work.






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