Kung Fu Wild Style – Global Times Review

Two artists from two very different backgrounds have collaborated on a single art project, the results of which can be seen at Shanghai’s Art Labor Gallery until February 28.

The project titled Kung Fu Wild Style comprises 10 graffiti-style recreations of scenes from movies starring martial arts legend Bruce Lee, including Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury. Five of the graffiti works have been created by the Brooklyn-born hip hop pioneer Fred Brathwaite, better known as Fab 5 Freddy. The other five are by the Hong Kong rapper Chan Kwong-yan, also known as MC Yan.

An exhibit from the show

An exhibit from the show

Way of life

“It is not really that kung fu and hip hop are so similar, but that Bruce Lee himself – the main theme or character in this art show – had a style and a way of life that has connections with what hip-hop came out of; that is, rebellion against the establishment, and self-invention, creativity, and passion,” said Martin Kemble, director of Art Labor Gallery.

The exhibition was first staged in Hong Kong last November. And in Shanghai, Fab 5 Freddy and MC Yan will be joined by the Russian graphic designer and painter Natsya who will work in the gallery space until mid-February, creating her own painting related to the exhibition.

“Nastya is a respected designer and artist,” said Kemble. “She has worked on a number of interesting, high-level projects, including painting the private theater of a very powerful person in the former Soviet Union. That’s all we can really say about that! It’s kind of top secret,” he added.

Currently living in New York, Natsya is a skateboarder, BMX rider and surfer. She mainly draws white and black graphics for exhibitions and art installations. “We felt there was some affinity between her and the boys in the show,” added Kemble.

Fab 5 Freddy is widely considered to be the godfather of hip-hop culture. He started as a subway graffiti artist, later producing the first-ever hip-hop film Wildstyle, which depicted the beginnings of hip-hop culture. He also produced and hosted the famed show Yo! MTV Raps, which was the first television show dedicated to rap music videos.

“Fab 5 Freddy has produced five paintings, using a screen-printing technique and other media including Swarovski crystals, which we felt was suitably ‘bling’ and suitable for this glittery town!” said Kemble.

MC Yan is recognized as a cultural icon in his native Hong Kong. “MC Yan’s paintings are done in a kind of pointillistic style, using professional graffiti spray paints as tiny dots on canvases that are composed of dozens of smaller canvases screwed together,” said Kemble.

MC Yan is also widely known for his live installations displayed at the Tate Modern in London and at FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair) in Paris, and his design work for brands like Nike, Clot and Remy Martin. He is also lauded as a Hong Kong graffiti and hip-hop pioneer.

“Both artists have made artworks that relate to, or use, Bruce Lee as a person who embodies a similar spirit to that of hip-hop, a rebellious outsider type of attitude,” said Kemble. “It was a choice made by the artists, wishing to work together on a project, as both respected each other’s work.”

The main aim of the exhibition is to explore the relationship between hip-hop’s formative years and Bruce Lee’s movies and the generations that both subsequently influenced. “I think the message of the exhibition is to just ‘do your thing,’ regardless of what others may think; be an original, and be full of spirit and pride in what you do,” said Kemble.

Through their work, the artists try to examine the influence of Bruce Lee and kung fu on 1970s New York City street culture and the hip-hop scene, and how it later influenced Hong Kong street culture in the 1990s.

“Shanghai has a style that we hoped would embrace such a show, and Freddy was here before quite recently and loved it,” said Kemble. “This show is what we are aiming to show at Art Labor: out of the mainstream, yet approachable by the masses and this is something we feel should be developed further in the art scene and that shows it to be more accessible and less elitist,” he added.

An exhibit from the show Photos: Courtesy of Art Labor

An exhibit from the show Photos: Courtesy of Art Labor

Kung Fu Wildstyle
Date: Until February 28, 11 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)
Venue: Art Labor
Address: Room 411, Bldg 4, 570 Yongjia Road 永嘉路570号4幢411室
Call 3460-5331 for details