the exhibition celebrating revolutionary punk band bad brains
‘Banned in Babylon: The Art and Culture of Bad Brains,’ a group show opening in LA tonight, explores how the D.C. quartet’s explosive music changed the political conversation.
In the late 70s and early 80s, local hardcore punk scenes began forming across America. Predictably, cultural metropolises like New York and Los Angeles were incubators for the anti-authoritarian genre. Among the nation's most important punk rock capitals is its political one: Washington, D.C. Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson's Dischord Records represented heavyweights like Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Government Issue. Though he later relocated to California to front Black Flag, Henry Rollins managed a Georgetown Häagen-Dazs. Before them all, though, came Bad Brains — the four-piece considered the East Coast's first ever hardcore punk band, and one of the most seminal African-American punk bands of all time.
Tonight in Los Angeles, a new art show traces the band's seismic impact on American music and culture. Titled Banned in Babylon: The Art and Culture of Bad Brains, the show collects colorful paintings by Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer; memorabilia including rare flyers, posters, and records; mixed media pieces by Shepard Fairey (the artist who presently operates the show's exhibition space, Subliminal Projects); and archival photography by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lucian Perkins, Brains superfan John Mousheghian, and Jeannie "Aunt Jean" Pawlowski — the aunt of Cro-Mags founder Harley Flanagan who has been photographing Bad Brains since 1981.
Though Bad Brains is counted among hardcore punk's pioneers, a diverse array of genres define its unique sound. Its members originally came together as a jazz fusion outfit called Mind Power, but after becoming obsessed with Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols, kicked their tempo into overdrive. At around the same time that the band's sound veered sharply towards punk, its members attended a Bob Marley concert that opened them up to reggae and the Rastafari movement. This powerful confluence of punk and reggae roots became a vehicle to speak powerfully on racial, social, and political issues. In August, its members will join those of Fishbone and Living Color in a "Power Jam" to headline Brooklyn's AfroPunk festival.
Banned in Babylon features historical documents of the band's high energy stage shows, as well as artworks inspired by its incendiary music and political action. The varied array of bold artworks spanning nearly four decades are a fitting testament to a band that's refused to classify its ever-shifting sound. The exhibition's opening reception will feature live performances by original member Darryl Jenifer, Moby, Trash Talk, Chuck Treece of McRad, and Peter Stahl of Scream.
'Banned in Babylon' is on view from July 23 to August 20, 2016 at Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Lucian Perkins. HR of Bad Brains, Hard Art Gallery, 1979.