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  • Written by Moe Wang


Spike Lee, 2023. (Photo: © Jamel Shabazz)

In the form of an immersive installation, the Brooklyn Museum presents Spike Lee: Creative Sources which will run from October 7, 2023, through February 4, 2024. The exhibit will take visitors through an in-depth look into the creative processes of Spike Lee, one of the most influential and prolific American directors, by organizing sources of inspirational people, places, and ideas that have fed his creative endeavors. The exhibition organizes the sources of influences in seven sections ; covering Brooklyn, Black history and culture, sports, music, film, politics, and family.

Though born in Atlanta, Georgia, Spike Lee is a Brooklyn icon; he was raised in Brooklyn, New York where he has his persona synonymous with the borough. Some of his most well-known Brooklyn-based films include Do the Right Thing (1989) and She’s Gotta Have It (1986).

Having produced his works in the form of films, movies, commercials, music videos, and plays over the course of forty years, Lee has centered his work in Brooklyn and other New York locales, spotlighting the topics of Black Americans, their history, and culture. Lee’s work is known for spotlighting the complicated and often controversial depictions of Black Americans, which is highlighted in the primary section of the exhibition. For example, Michael Ray Charles’s satirical artwork Bamboozled (1997), a depiction of the dartboard with the face of a Black American whose head is cleaved in a deep wound but winking and smiling widely, is displayed in the section. The painting helped inspire Lee’s provocative critique film on minstrelsy and blackface, Bamboozled (2000).

Other objects and works by many prominent artists, from Deborah Roberts, Michael Ray Charles, to James Van Der Zee, that have inspired Lee are also present. Other powerful figures across a spectrum of disciplines include Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, and Billie Holiday, who have all made an impact on Lee. The exhibition thus simultaneously celebrates the historical feats of Black American and African figures by spotlighting Lee’s legacy and honoring his deep connection to his origins.

The inspiration in sports, music, and film, that have fueled Lee’s prolific career are also portrayed throughout the exhibit. In the sports section, it includes Kehinde Wiley’s commissioned painting that honors the legacy of Brooklyn Dodgers player, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe’s tennis rackets, the first Black American to win three Grand Slam singles titles, and toy figures of such heroes as Michael Jordan and Willie Mays.

In the music section are the portraits of musical luminary, Aaron Copland photographed by Gordon Parks’s, alongside the display of instruments that belonged to legendary musicians like Prince’s “Love Symbol” guitar. His music interest was passed down from his mother and played a key component in Lee’s filmmaking.

The cinema section exhibits photographs and vintage film posters of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and Italian director Federico Fellini, whose range of work inspired Lee. Lee’s filmmaking has often revolved around the topic of politics in relation to the lives of Black Americans and the inequities they encounter. The politics section thus presents propaganda posters from WWII and the Vietnam War which feature stereotypical imagery of Black Americans, along with posters from Lee’s film Miracle at St. Anna (2008) and Da 5 Bloods (2020).

The final part of the exhibition spotlights the notion of family that has been important to Lee on- and off-screen. From portraits of his siblings, parents, and grandparents to portraits of actors, writers, and other colleagues who have become part of Lee’s professional family, it highlights how the different forms and shapes of the family helped spark Lee’s artistic vision.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources marks Brooklyn’s first major exhibition on Lee. It is organized by Kimberli Gant, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, with Indira A. Abiskaroon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern and Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Installation view, Spike Lee: Creative Sources. Brooklyn Museum, October 7, 2023 – February 4, 2024. (Photo: Paul Abreu Pita)


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