In 1990, Public Enemy released the album Fear of a Black Planet. It's an anti-establishment masterwork, a cry for justice with songs like "Fight the Power" and "Revolutionary Generation."
Now, on the thirtieth anniversary of the record's release, Black Book Gallery is opening its exhibit, The Terrordome, which showcases work from 26 artists around the world inspired by the album. In the mix is Public Enemy rapper Chuck D and contemporary street-art superstar Shepard Fairey, who has long merged music, pop culture and art.
Black Book Gallery, which has been in Denver since 2009, spotlights independent artists often working outside the commercial art market and gives artists a platform and space to take risks.
Gallery co-owner Tom Horne says the idea for The Terrordome came about in November, while he was in conversation with Chuck D and Fairey's manager. The original opening date was in May, but COVID-19 restrictions pushed it back. Now the work is finally on display, and the gallery is more excited than ever.
"It's about putting something together that represents a pivotal album," says Horne. As for the revolutionary content, "it's just as relevant today as it was when the album came out."
Some of the artists involved had no idea how relevant their work would be in the summer of 2020, as the world once again rose up against racist police violence — a subject both the album and the artists in the show address.
Artist Chris St. John says that while he was under quarantine, he re-listened to Fear of a Black Planet for inspiration.
"It occurred to me how little had changed in thirty years," he says in a statement. "Race relations are still tense, police are acting without regard to people of color’s civil rights, the government is fucked, politics are hostile, and corporate greed is at an all-time high."
Some of the artists — like Denver's Raverro Stinnett, who in 2018 was waiting for a train when he was beaten by a security guard at Union Station and suffered a traumatic brain injury — even experienced this violence directly.
"We included Raverro in the show because of what happened to him, and it ties into all this stuff," says Horne. Now, Stinnett's artwork can speak to the racial injustice that he suffered and survived.
Other artworks, which hail from as far aways as Thailand, France and Portugal, represent the rage the rappers felt toward the United States government when the album was created in the 1990s; the works also honor significant Black figures like Malcolm X.
Horne says many of the artists still recall the first time they heard the album, experiences that informed the work they created that's in the show. "I know 100 percent that just doing the show and putting on shows for fourteen years —our artists are always influenced by music."
The Terrordome runs September 5 through 26 at Black Book Gallery, 3878 South Jason Street. Tickets are $15 and should be purchased in advance on the gallery's website. Face masks are required.