91–98 jfk–lax border
March 12–April 30, 2022
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
This exhibition is my thank-you to some of my heroes.
When the bro Chadwick Boseman died, so many of us felt a huge pain and deep loss. People cried because a fictional king had died. It made me think of how I can’t even imagine the pain a generation must have felt when a real king—Dr. King, Malcolm, and the Panthers—got taken from us. A community that really needed love and support saw Reaganomics and new Jim Crows, along with other new systems of hate, take hold. For many in that generation, the reasonable option to self-medicate through disco and cocaine turned into the crack epidemic, and needle sharing exasperated the new HIV virus.
A generation who saw the pain in the eyes and the souls of their mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, and neighbors began to reimagine how to address these issues when the larger structural solution was locking us up. In L.A., Dr. Dre and Snoop made the less dangerous chronic cool. They told us to put on jimmy hats, and—10 million records later—my generation started smoking up and wrapping up. Snoop, Dre, and the chronic saved a generation.
In N.Y.C., they said Giuliani cleaned up the city, which is wild because every kid I know knew we needed to change this generational curse. We started smoking up, and they came and locked everyone up. Humans need a sense of self-worth and a sense of dignity. A generation returned from jail with wild scars: people saw their family members gunned down in front them; Latasha Harlins was murdered; and 90 percent of women are sexually assaulted before they get locked up. In some prisons, one half of the men have been sexually assaulted—trauma on trauma, put in a box.
When these folks came out, Biggie, JAY-Z, and Lil’ Kim gave us the commandments to get fly and carry our heads high. Pac told us to keep our heads up. When he was taken, DMX carried the torch to make us bark, pray, and cry. Mary J made us say we need real love. Ghostface took his darkest moment and made us use the newspaper—made us want to ground our souls and reach for the skies. Magazines and the press people, with only profits in their mind, claimed to love the culture; they made millions of dollars telling the West and East Coast that we were at war on the ground. The only real narrative was that we saved each other.
L.A., thank you.
– Alvaro Barrington