Museum exhibit shows kung fu’s influence on hip hop culture

World Today

Kung fu master Bruce Lee was an icon of the big screen, but he also influenced the hip hop movement in the United States. That legacy went on display in Washington.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

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Bruce Lee’s powerful kung fu kicks and strikes made him an international star, but his impact wasn’t limited to the big screen. He also made his mark on hip hop culture.

Hip hop was born in the late 1970s in New York, embraced largely by young African-Americans. Through elements like music and street art, the movement gave them a voice.

They found a common chord in Bruce Lee.

“The theme of his movies was fighting oppression and racism,” said Tom Vick, curator at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington. “He was embraced by that community.”

The Sackler Gallery hosted an exhibit called “Kung Fu Wildstyle,” a bit of a departure from the museum’s more traditional displays.

“Bruce Lee has never been on our walls before, I’m fairly certain,” Vick said.

The exhibit is a collaboration of two street and hip hop artists who were inspired by Lee, MC Yan, who is based in Hong Kong, and American artist Fab 5 Freddy.

“For me, [Lee] is a big philosopher,” MC Yan said. “And in China, it seems a very long time since we had a new philosopher. More than 1,000 years!”

Fab 5 Freddy said it was refreshing that kung fu films were more diverse than other films.

“When the kung fu movies happened in the ’70s, you had black heroes and these Asian heroes,” said Fab 5 Freddy. “You never had that in movies – everybody was white.”

The Sackler Gallery exhibit featured paintings by both men that illustrate Lee’s influence on them and the hip hop scene.

“Considering it’s been almost 40 years since [Lee] passed away, people really still love him and revere him,” Vick said.