Walking into an exhibition and hearing ‘Teenage Kicks’ blasting out at full volume as you step through the door is probably not the typical visitor experience at the Imperial War Museum – but my trip coincided with the museum’s ‘Culture Under Attack’ programme. With a free day in the capital and browsing possible exhibitions I might take a look at I happened across the IWM’s ‘Rebel Sounds’ – one of three concurrent exhibitions that form the Culture Under Attack season.
The exhibition is intended to illustrate how music can be a force for resistance and rebellion – even under the most desperate of circumstances. From undercover jazz nights in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, to the burgeoning cross-community punk scene in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s, to Serbia’s underground B92 radio station challenging the violent nationalism of the Milošević regime in the 1990s, to the artists making a defiant cultural challenge to Islamist extremism and its ban on music in modern-day Mali – the exhibition is testimony to the power of music to lead us out of darkness.
The exhibition is not a particularly large one and it focuses solely on the four snapshots in time and place listed above. However, while I’ve seen far more extensive music exhibitions with a far bigger range of exhibits, few have left me feeling as moved as this one. A wonderful celebration of the beauty and determination of the human spirit, even in the grimmest of times, this exhibition is well worth a visit. What’s more it’s completely free of charge, as is access to the other two exhibitions in the series – one looking at how British museums and galleries protected works of art from destruction in the Second World War and the other examining the destruction of cultural heritage during times of conflict, whether a deliberate strategy or collateral damage. And, of course, if you still have time to spare after that there’s all the usual tanks and medals and wot-not to see.
Rebel Sounds – part of the Culture Under Attack programme runs until 5th January 2020. Entrance: Free