Currently showing at the V & A Museum, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 charts a relatively short but intensely powerful period of modern cultural history. Made more pertinent in the current political climate, it is an enlightening and, at times, emotional trip through a time of new freedoms and political unrest which undeniably shaped the society in which we live today.
Carefully curated to ease you in via The Beatles and Bob Dylan, rolling news footage and literary artifacts place you at the dawn of a new era. Brought to life via a soundtrack on a pair of provided headphones, the music changes as you move between exhibits bringing an unexpected depth to the experience. If you’re a music nut like me, you may find yourself wandering backwards to stay with The Small Faces after momentarily stepping beyond the boundaries of Itchycoo Park.
Wandering through the fresh fashions of Carnaby Street where Twiggy and the Mini Cooper reigned supreme, LP covers and concert posters document an impressive period of pop and rock. Iconic images stare back and it’s boggling to think so many notable cultural moments came from these few short years. From Sergeant Pepper through Barbarella to The Man Who Sold The World, more than the usual suspects are in attendance.
As you wander further, the voices of minorities become apparent. Feminist, gay and black voices start to emerge. Social dissent prompted passioned expression and it manifested itself magnificently. Protest posters and radical fanzines paper the walls right up to the ceilings. Of vital importance then and endlessly inspiring now. Bold and colourful imagery provides a stark reminder of the struggle through recent living history. Met with oppression, art and creativity exploded fantastically to counter the message.
Then we are met with the brutality and injustice of the Vietnam War and the infamous student protests. John Filo’s photojournalism captures the horror at Kent State University where the National Guard shot 4 students dead and wounded many others. It’s a distressing chapter but one which cannot be ignored. Like the hostility towards black and gay minorities, until recently you could be forgiven for thinking we had left the worst behind… This exhibition is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the work has been done, we still have so much more to do.
I am loathe to share more of this exhibition as this is something to be experienced firsthand. It is wonderfully-textured storytelling, delighting and despairing in equal measure. You’ll have to search hard to find a more motivating and moving account of oppression and solidarity. It’s an exhilarating and exhausting journey but there is a reward in store… NO SPOILERS… BUT… About three-quarters of the way around you’re suddenly immersed in the heady summer days of August ’69 and you may find yourself staying here longer than expected. The many huge beanbags and cushions were all occupied by people of every generation, older ones remembering, younger ones imagining. It’s a wonderful pay-off to this confronting trip through history.
Revolution made me sad for the past struggles but ready for the future. In the current political climate, this remarkable collection of work gave me hope. And the feeling that our voices are important and capable of change. And the expectation that we are about to hit another fantastically fertile patch of artistic output. I look forward to it very much.
You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 at the V & A Museum, London SW7 2RL. Until Sunday 26th February 2017