Hank Cooper is a Two-Spirit citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Curatorial Assistant at the Institute of American Indian Art’s Museum of Contemporary Native Art.
To some people, punk rock music is nothing but noise.
But for Hank Cooper, the first participant in MoPOP’s new guest curator program, the wailing guitars and shrill screams don’t sound like bloody murder.
It sounds like freedom.
“You can be wild, you can be angry, you can be hilarious, you can be gross, you can be emo – and it doesn’t have to sound like a sad song or an angry song,” Hank explained. “It encompasses all emotions. It’s this very rapid beat and crunchy sound, and it just made me feel understood in a lot of ways.”
That cathartic freedom of expression is exactly what Hank hopes to share with visitors through their new pop-up exhibition, GIRL GERMS: Riot Grrrl & Punk Politics in the Pandemic.
Tucked right behind the museum’s massive guitar tower, the exhibition pays homage to the Pacific Northwest’s riot grrrl movement in the 1990s, which created a safe space for women to raise hell in an underground rock scene that was male-dominated and often misogynistic.
Lovingly assembled with the help of MoPOP’s curatorial team, the pop-up pays special attention to elements of the movement that empowered women of color and transgender voices, which holds personal significance for Hank, a Two-Spirit citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Who is Hank Cooper?
Punk became a big part of Hank’s life around eighth grade, when a family move plucked them from the big city and left them stranded in a small town. Struggling to make sense of the complex emotions boiling inside while also on the cusp of revelations about their sexual orientation, Hank found refuge in the no-f*cks-given attitude amplified by the punk subgenre.
“We sang grotesque songs and were just yelling around in the upstairs portion of my garage out in this flat acreage in Oklahoma,” Hank laughed, reminiscing about the all-girl punk band they started in high school called My Doll. “We were just being loud and screaming — having an outlet for our angst and our hormones and our frustrations.”
With sexism, racism, and queerphobia still attempting to stifle voices today, Hank hopes the pop-up exhibition serves as a reminder that no matter how complex the social issue, there’s a tried-and-true way to express whatever emotions are bubbling up inside.
“When the English language fails us, that’s when the music comes in,” Hank said.
All it takes, they added, is one spark of inspiration, one tentative line of lyrics, and that first cathartic strum of a power chord.
Ready to see GIRL GERMS: Riot Grrrl & Punk Politics in the Pandemic for yourself? Plan your next a visit to MoPOP today!