Interactive exhibit brings Bruce Lee's book collection to life
Before Bruce Lee became an international superstar known for creating his own style of martial arts and acting in movies alongside legends like hall-of-fame basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lee was an 18-year-old kid working in Ruby Chow’s restaurant on Broadway where he also rented a room in the attic.
Now, the Wing Luke Museum, which displays artifacts from Lee’s life and has held exhibits dedicated to his story, is partnering with the Bruce Lee Foundation to present a new exhibit, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee," that opens Saturday.
The exhibit features interactive displays and graphics that allow audiences to immerse themselves in Lee's teachings as they walk through his personal journey of discovering his famous mind, body, and spirit philosophy.
“We're really excited because this is the first interactive exhibit that we're doing,” explained Lee’s daughter, Shannon, who is the president and founder of the Bruce Lee Foundation. The Wing Luke Museum is currently home to Bruce Lee’s collection of 2,800 books. Lee himself studied these books, which cover topics from physical combat to philosophy and self-help, and also include interesting titles like "Slimnastics."
The idea for this new exhibit emerged from Shannon Lee’s attempt to express the importance of her father’s expansive book collection to audiences. Lee’s collection, which is physically displayed throughout the exhibit, gives audiences a unique look into the titles that Lee studied on his own path toward self-enlightenment.
“We're trying to express through his book collection, his sentiments on his philosophical idea around being like water," Lee explained. "So, this exhibit explores that idea tells you the origin story of his philosophy on water, and how it came to be.”
The exhibit's name, “Be water, my friend,” was a phrase that Bruce Lee would often say, and it is the title of the book that Shannon Lee wrote to illuminate the teachings and philosophies of her father. The book, published in 2020, uses her father’s teachings to lead readers on a path toward personal growth.
The new exhibit uses Bruce Lee’s notes and citations from his personal book collection to usher audiences through his teachings using interactive art and graphic installations.
The creative vision for this exhibit comes from immersive directing duo, Eve Weston and Jessica Kantor, leading technicians who also work for the award-winning Meow Wolf experience — an interactive, hands-on, fully immersive art experience that leaves audiences feeling like they were transported to a psychedelic alternate reality.
This partnership birthed an exhibit that combines physical artifacts — like Lee’s books, his hand-written notes, his old boxing gloves — with interactive displays that audiences activate by stepping onto illuminated platforms. These platforms, accompanied by calming sounds of water, display citations Lee made in his books, and activate images and videos that show how Lee incorporated these quotes into his life.
ruce Lee, who died in 1973 at the age of 32, was not only known as a martial artist and an actor, but also as a philosopher, and here in Seattle especially — as an advocate for civil rights.
Lee’s studios in Seattle were known for being open to all people, and Charlette LeFevre, director of the Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore, remembers Lee as someone who helped fight racism in Seattle.
“[Lee’s] first U.S. student was Jesse Glover,” LeFevre said. “He was a Black man who was beaten up by two Seattle cops and wanted to learn how to defend himself.” Glover would later become Lee’s first assistant instructor in the United States , and influence Lee’s learning about African American oppression in the U.S.
Lee’s history of fighting for the oppressed is also what excites Wing Luke Museum’s executive director, Joël Barraquiel Tan, about the new exhibit.
“I am particularly inspired by this exhibit happening at this time, because we are currently living in a time where we have less civil rights than when Bruce Lee was alive,” Barraquiel Tan said.
Tan says he hopes that revisiting Lee’s philosophies and teachings at this current moment in time will be inspiring to visitors.
“I think it's timely and exciting that we're revisiting his [Lee’s] values and philosophies, so that we can take inspiration from them to activate, respond and protect our communities and protect our civil rights,” he said.
"Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee" opens at the Wing Luke Museum July 9, 2022.
This story was updated on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 at 2:40 p.m.