Back in August (approximately a century ago in blog-years) the Freer and Sackler Galleries, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program presented a weekend of events exploring the connection between hip hop music and martial arts movies. Hip hop culture’s formative years in New York in the 1970s happened at a time when cheap Times Square movie houses played kung fu movies day and night, and found avid fans in the rappers and break dancers who founded the movement, turning stars like Bruce Lee into icons and inspiring groups like the Wu Tang Clan to adopt an entire philosophy based on the codes of honor and brotherhood at the root of martial arts movies. Twice during our weekend of events we showed the classic Jackie Chan film Drunken Master, which includes the kind of kung fu moves that break dancers incorporated into their routines.
The multimedia collective Hop Fu, who returned to the Freer after a three year absence for another raucous performance, make the hip hop/kung fu connection explicit in their performances, which involve live DJ scratching synced to classic kung fu movies. Their Saturday afternoon performance brought down the house and drew the kind of young, diverse audience museums crave.
We concluded things on Sunday with a panel discussion moderated by SI APA Program Director Dr. Konrad Ng entitled “The Hip Hop/Kung Fu/Afro-Asian Connection.” The panel - which was live-Tweeted on the web site Racialicious included Hop Fu founder Barry Cole, author Nelson George (who was one of the first to write about hip hop and kung fu), and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, a performance artist inspired by hip hop aesthetics. The wide ranging discussion took in everything from the history of Chinese restaurants in African-American neighborhoods to Hop Fu’s triumphant performances in Hong Kong, the birthplace of the movies that inspired them, to the difficulties and pleasure of being an Asian, female performer working in a field traditionally stereotyped as misogynistic. The discussion could have gone all night, and only came to an end then our security staff stepped in to remind us that the museum had to close.
Tom Vick, Public Programs Coordinator, Freer & Sackler Galleries