Average read time: 5 minutes.

Delving into the greater meaning of his activism, music, and revolutionary art, the exhibit educates and enlightens attendees through a labyrinth of emotions, as they take this journey through his extraordinary life.

A testimony to his mother 

Tupac Shakur. When I'm Free Exhibit
Tupac Shakur. Wake Me When I’m Free Exhibit

Years before her death in 2016, Shakur’s mother, political activist and former member of the Black Panther Party, Afeni Shakur, outlined the blueprint for the exhibit. Bringing her vision to life was creative director Jeremy Hodges, who is the founder of the Project Art Collective, and Nwaka Onwusa, who is the Chief Curator & Vice President of Curatorial Affairs at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Upon entering, one of the first images seen is a 10-foot statue of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, a sculpture of one of the many deconstructions of Tupac’s various tattoos. His original tattoo of Nefertiti had the words “2DIE4” below as a tribute to his mother, who he referred to as a “Black Queen.”

Close by is an illuminated scroll of an untitled poem that Tupac wrote. It begins with the words “Please wake me when I’m free. I cannot bear captivity,” which is where the title of the exhibition comes from.

“The exhibit has been very good about sharing everything with family and people who were close to him, saying ‘Does this feel right?’” said Jamal Joseph, Tupac’s godfather and special advisor to the estate. “So nothing was edited out because people said don’t show it because that’s not who Tupac was. I think the exhibit will do what Afeni believed in her life and what Tupac believed in his life, ‘Here’s who I am. Here’s my word. I’ll let you decide. You can come up with the final nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. But this is who I am. Pure and unashamed.”

Larger than life

Tupac Shakur. When I'm Free Exhibit
Tupac Shakur. Wake Me When I’m Free Exhibit

The exhibition is shown in a 20,000-square-foot venue akin to a contemporary art museum and features thousands of handwritten notes by Tupac – including song lyrics, screenplay ideas, a grocery list – clothing from iconic moments throughout his career alongside other treasured artifacts. As visitors peruse the interactive exhibit, each room peels back a layer of who Tupac was.

Another room displays moments from Tupac’s childhood, including the tricycle he used to ride around during Black Panther meetings. “I remember Tupac riding through the house on his tricycle with a helmet, and you better get out of his way,” says Joseph. “And who he was that day depended on what character he was playing. So it could be a football player or it might be an astronaut, but ‘Here I come.’ So to talk about that story and to see that story be larger than life. And to know that Tupac’s energy was larger than life when he came through that room is really quite amazing.” 

Joseph donated several of his cherished possessions to the exhibit including a haiku book that Tupac made for him when he was just 11 years old. Tupac sent him the book, which was filled with words of encouragement, while Joseph was serving nearly a decade in state and federal prisons.

Tupac: the global icon

Tupac Shakur. When I'm Free Exhibit
Tupac Shakur. Wake Me When I’m Free Exhibit

The pièce de résistance of the exhibition is a rose that looks like it is erupting from a piece of concrete resting in the centre of the final gallery titled “The Rose That Grew From the Concrete.” It’s a visual representation of the symbolic poem that Tupac wrote, which meditates on how something beautiful can come from a space where it is least expected. It perfectly sums up both the exhibit and the life of Tupac, who faced many hardships during his 25 years on Earth, but is now being celebrated as a global icon.

The “Tupac Shakur. Wake Me When I’m Free” exhibit runs through May 1 at The Canvas at L.A. Live. Tickets range from $14.50 to $54.50. www.wakemewhenimfree.com 

Images | Photos via Monique Gardner