I start with a picture and then
I don’t think about art when I’m working. I
try to think about life.
Freedom of the
intellect means the freedom to report what one
has seen, heard, and
felt, and not to be obliged to
fabricate imaginary facts and
“The Prevention of Literature”
Perhaps some look on at this body of
work by this artist
thinking the world is different now. But look again.
“Disease Culture?” The
thinker, the artist, intervenes to ask the question in which she or
she answers: “Disease
Culture.” Here in K
the title of this painting alluding
to a culture that is Kafkaesque? Something unnatural? Absurd?
name of the long-ago Aztecs deity, “AOPKHES,” is sprawled
across the canvas, in crayon, it seems, as if the handiwork of a
young child. Here, someone is remembering.
gold and an image of the famous (or infamous) crown, outlined in
white. Its center is painted gold. Inside the crown, however, in
black lettering, are the letters, “ORD.” There’s
been a slight-of-hand, an “exchange,” maybe. The gold is
Spanish gold, now. Look at what appears in the right hand corner. The
crown floats in mid-air, as if sacred. Visible and yet detached from
its earthly kingdom. Beneath it, three $$$ signs in white paint. The
artist has tried and is still trying to erase this memory of the
moment this mythical creation of the prophet/profit/king took flight.
His white line swirls in and around the dollar signs, to no avail.
The crown remains. The dollar signs attached. The gold will flow,
assigning value to humans and things. The African body becomes a
substitute for the Aztecs who will be destroyed, as having life of no
worth to the crown. In exchange for more gold, bodies are exchanged
for other bodies. Some live; some die—all determined by the
crown, which itself becomes the market that becomes institutions that
becomes, as this
artist recognizes, nothing more than a life in death for the living.
the way of doing business. “The art of negotiation.”
Lightening striking the heart and carnage ensues. In the lightening,
however, a flash of recognition for this
another, enshrined as pivotal, influential. Untouchable. His crown is
made of golden $$$ signs—but I can’t see what’s
brave about a work filled with horizontal and vertical images of
Campbell soup! It’s contents, container, and label, assembled
on an assembly line, produce capital. We know. If I could see the
“exchange,” perhaps of bodies for gold: migrant workers
toiling among tomato plants, out there in the fields, most Americans
rarely if ever see, and the suits or even the middle men, handing
off, or signing checks, or calling the broker. It’s a deal! The
profiteers shake hands while, somewhere, off sight, in some camp of
flimsy barracks, the workers wring their tired ad empty hands.
we, the viewers, look back at K,
see what we are to remember: the deal began long, long ago when the
migrant workers inhabited the surface of the land and the all
resources underneath its soil.
the 1980s, Reagan’s policies for excluding black Americans, in
a very real sense, from “citizenship,” relegates a
population of people to a “race” and from this bottom
corner of society, only a few are handpicked to rise from the
oh-so-terrible-depths of a place—of their own making! The
cruelty inherent in the narrative surrounding the “urban”
or “ghetto” black in the 1980s had no bounds, and, as a
result, the hack writers honored no pleads for human decency let
alone the outcry, even if from the marginal bottom corner, for
political and social accountability of the world’s wealthiest
nation. Instead, the administration revved up the machine and set it
to run, full blast, depicting images of “urban” depravity
to sell to the American as well as international community.
good for corporations. Serial killers.
policies mirrored foreign policies. What was “Family Values”
then is “America First” now—chokehold policies
devastating black families and the people of sovereign states in
Latin America in the sought after exchange of capital for US-made
weapons to be deployed among urban
and vacant lots and on foreign
and rural villages. There would be no “trickling” down of
anything good in urban or foreign territories—only more armed
police to incarcerate the politically and economically neglected
black male boys and a C-4 bomb on the homes of black families, within
the borders. And beyond, how about laundered funds to help terrorize
families of women and children? Defacement, once and for all!
Children died in the blaze!
in Chicago, Mayor Emanuel offers “offensive” language not
for the benefit of those neglected blacks left out, still of
citizenship, but for the American and international community, who
are taught to see in this urban
violence (77 incidents of gun violence and 12 fatalities), a lack of
“values” and “character.” No one is to remind
America about its values
The movement of guns and bibles across the global isn’t an
enterprise ended with the conspicuous practice of imperialism. The US
is all about the financing of conflict and division—the
complete disregard for life. For life! Everything is about the
movement of capital! Capital! Life on Earth, in all of its
variations, be damned! So who can talk about values
then or now?
Andy Warhol’s serial cans of Campbell soup doesn’t speak
to the outrageous indifference black Americans have had to endure
ever since white Europeans discovered their innocence,
(as Faulkner would say). When whites found their innocence, they
created the bottom line! Profit at all cost. Sadly, Warhol’s
speak to those whose stories are being whitewashed, trampled upon,
crossed out, by the current conquistadors in search of capital.
what of identical images of Marilyn Monroe? Iconic.
And a woman!
an iconic image
of a women photographed by Walker
Evans in 1936. I find this image more revealing about American values
and character, on the one hand. But, I’m also reminded that the
woman hasn’t even a “Hollywood” name. She’s
called the tenant farmer’s wife. Nonetheless, perhaps
alternating images of this image of an impoverished woman, mother,
wife of tenant farmer, with that of the “Hollywood”
glamour doll. Maybe a little write-up, too, about the woman name
Norma Jean who was asked to die and stay dead so some movie moguls
could live large. Maybe glossy reprints of the tenant farmer’s
wife could have been mailed to the detached Rockefeller, or J.P.
Morgan, or Henry Fords, just to see if they had any remorse for their
crimes committed against their fellow Americans—since we are
talking about crime, people without value and character regardless of
what generation or era we are in. Defacement is a practice
intentionally enacted and, therefore, must be intentionally ended.
of Warhol’s work could see in Marilyn the selling of dreams,
illusions, built on
mascara and lipstick, on white skin…
could have painted the photo of Emmett Till’s grief-stricken
mother as she sits beside that open casket. Image of image of Mamie.
Maybe not so beautiful. This was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s domain.
Pained black heads disfigured. Disfigured heads in pain. Teeth on the
heads have bars, All is in the soul that in turn resides behind those
bars. This is a story Jean-Michel knows well. What appears abnormal,
distorted, disfigured outside
mainstream is, in fact, a very real expression of our obliging an
inhumane system that is capitalism.
and inside doesn’t exist. There’s only profit. Profit.
And more profit. Everything must be evaluated for the
the same concepts and symbols of art for profit isn’t
Jean-Michel’s goal. The
face of his Mona
Lisa is stained in blood while serious capital accumulates,
surrounding her, defacing her humanity. The Mona Lisa (at the Louvre)
is held for random by the “Federal Reserve.” It’s
all about money, not art. The exchange kills. People die for the sake
of the exchange or the lack thereof—that’s the irony of
the system. In the long run, what’s the different between the
Louvre’s Mona Lisa and Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, if not
the reproducing of the defaced? That’s what capitalism does.
work. Jean-Michel’s work is to represents the truth of what
capitalism defaces. To deface in turn. With crown, triumphantly.
I look at a painting by Jean-Michel, I see an artist who decided not
to give in, give up, cash in. His time on earth to speak and speak
honestly was too precious to self-indulge in the “Me”
generation. It was about “Me” for Basquiat. Unlike
Warhol, Jean-Michel has baggage peculiar to descendants in the
Americas of the enslaved and exploited, marginalized and
criminalized. He decides to confront the art industry as creatively
as the industry itself has created functional images, which erase the
vibrancy of human diversity. In turn, art critics are trained to call
the replicas, “universal” representations, representing
the same codified and privileged image of “Western beauty.”
Hidden is the violence of defacing humanity and the equally violent
elevation of things over life. In the exchange, life is a commodity,
for display in state-of-the-art buildings, if the price is right.
glimpses the lay of the land. Little of art
appears on those walls in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris,
Prague and elsewhere. What appears
relates to and speaks
of the worship of the All-Mighty $.
the bottom corner of the world, the glow of gold surrounds the Empire
State Building—itself in gold (1983). Gold opens the door for
sugar cane planters, and sugar canes in Haiti appeared, and money is
exchanged between the occupiers and the French monarchy. Sugar cane
plantations in Puerto Rico enrich the American colonies.
Jean-Michel’s father was Haitian-born while his mother was from
Puerto Rico. He knew history. The history of the Americas. Of the
enrichment of Western culture. Of US intervention to infuse a culture
with the notion of its own infallibility. Manifest
Destiny. A nation
state boasting of liberty for all and
Manifest Destiny, too! Jean-Michel refers to the US “occupation”
of Haiti in 50 Cent
Piece (1983): “HAITI
ENDS” in 1936. Haiti has come into contact with Manifest
Destiny and the hunters of gold. And heads. Black heads.
populates his canvases with heads, disfigured, heads without bodies,
bodies without heads. In so much of his work, the symbol for money
“$” appears and usually after
the words “colonization,” “slave,” “gold,”
as the real story must be made clear and reiterated again and
again—repeated, that is, the way the lies are repeated and
Columbus’s voyage. How much of the money wasn’t from the
Catholic Church, which opened the coffers to negotiators and
all-around practitioners in what became a global enterprise in the
trading and selling of African (human and gold) “commodities.”
There’s a crucifix atop and near center (Four
crucifixes, representing the story of the crucifixion of the “king”
Jesus, float above and comfortably beside the crown of the Spanish
king, as it is a story that serves the crown’s imperial
ambitions. It’s no wonder today, in the US, black leader in any
stripe other than religious, is frowned upon as not truly (is it?) in
the tradition of civil rights—the merging of the crucifix and
the struggle. (Did you forget?). But can anyone speak about the
history of black socialism in this country?
we remember Dr. King on that balcony in Memphis, as Jean-Michel
remembers in The Nile,
bleeding to death in “MEMPHIS” is linked to the history
of black people—the people of the Nile.
against imperialism and war profiteers. MLK assigned to die.
“HEMLOCK” in a bullet.
could almost miss Jean-Michel drawing an outline of a “spider.”
It’s there to reminds us to see the connection, what holds the
stories about the Spanish crown, the Church, the “dog guarding
the pharaoh,” the “slave,” and Memphis together if
not the poison that is this obsession with money.
“asbestos” appears, as it does in several of
Jean-Michel’s paintings. Asbestos infused think tanks churning
out poisonous thoughts that, in turn, erect poisonous walls of
division. Diseased! Diseased!
composer Gustav Mahler once said that “the symphony must be
like the world, it must embrace everything.” Basquiat wants the
world to embrace the canvas where he’s telling the story of the
conquest of land and labor, of material resources, and of minds. Life
need not be lived as if dead! In
Native Carrying Some
Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari, (1982),
the black lettering rests uneasy on a brown background. Sprawled
across the top of the painting, childlike, is the phrase
“Colonialism: Part Two, in a series, vol. VI.” The black
figure is far from invisible here. His face, dramatic, and his eyes
staring out, toward whoever is looking on, is, perhaps, intended to
disarm the viewer not used to such boldness from such a figure. What
is high above his head? I can only imagine the typical
York art gallery viewer might have thought when he or she stared at
what appears to be a black, possibly wooden board, on which is
written in white lettering the words, “Royal,” “Salt,”
One word atop another. Protest banner! So similar to the artist’s
is this artist?
protester representing a protester. Even
if his teeth bare the familial metal bars, the protester writes.
Above the protester, graffiti artist, Jean-Michel has anointed him:
he wears with a crown. He’s a king, Jean-Michel shows, as the
figure denounces the root cause of injustice and inequality. The
crown has always been his for the reclaiming; it has always been his
heritage. Any black wherever becomes king or queen denouncing the
root cause of a hegemony of violence.
the right of this black figure is a drawing of an iconic-like figure:
man in a safari hat. It’s an image that’s become for us
as common as that of a predominantly all-white, all-male US Congress,
We sees right through the hunter, right to the brown background. And
yet, he’s there nonetheless, holding, upright, a rifle in his
right hand. Above his head, there is no crown, only the word,
“POACHERS,” within a rectangle. A title! Suggesting
killing. As a way of being in the world. Within a rectangle so as not
to be misunderstood as a singular event but, in fact, one that is
analogous to that violence which has contributed to the destructive
forces in Africa!
nothing singular here. As Jean-Michel writes on the canvas, there is
still an on-going debate among the corporate conquistadors and
religious policy makers. Is there “good money” to be had
in the flat-out exploitation of “savages” or is the way
to a totalitarian conquest the soft approach, to be led by
“missionaries and noble provisions.” Both have worked in
the past. Tamed helped trained to serve tea on ivory tables.
Again. Fundamentalism, this time.
the ships cross
we’re wearing masks.
longer exclusively in the domain of “art.”
inherits from the hieroglyphics of ancient Africa the function to
creatively tell a story. Here, in Basquiat’s work, is one
continuous narrative about Theft. About the coup of land and labor.
About “TUSKS” and “skins.” Architectural
staples of colonialism. Western culture rests on the foundation built
on the exchange of white ivory and black skins. That’s the
story of defacement and, look now, look at Jean-Michel’s work.
Look at the s at the end of the word tusks. It has a line drawn
through it. And the s appears again as a $ sign. “Skins,”
too, is defaced.
Nothing is soft here. The first and last letter, s, of the word
“Skins” is hacked off, a line is drawn through both the
first and the last s, vertically. $. Here’s the truth—the
revelation of the bottom line. $. It’s always been about money.
Profits! And, the bottom
of Jean-Michel’s Native
“I won’t even mention gold.” Again!
the artist doesn’t stop. Why should he? So he calls one of them
out: Cortez! Only it’s “Corte z.” Separated from
his familial clan! “
Separating! Crossing out! Emphatically! “Corte ℩.”
Defaced! Only a trace to remember that all-consuming history of
violence. If only a brushstroke in motion could erase the injustice…
early morning encounter between two 25-year old males in New York
takes place after the city announces, as official state of business
of arts, a “war on graffiti.” Violators
will be arrested. The ruling pleases residents of the newly
gentrified communities and, of course, real estate moguls. Cheers for
the New York Transit Police. Something is being done about the
barbarians, albeit, artistic ones, at the gate.
artist Michael Stewart becomes an innocent casualty of war.
Nightsticks raining down on flesh and bones. Around 2:30am on
September 15, 1983, there were witnesses on the scene. Eye witnesses.
But will it matter?
Stewart, 25-years old, a graffiti artist, is one his way home to
Brooklyn. He’s on the First Avenue and 14th Street subway station, and while he waits, Michael decides to take
out a black marker.
25 year old man is present, standing behind Michael. He sees black.
Less the marker and more the black figure. He’s white and he’s
in blue and he is weaponized. He’s been trained to see
race—even if the raced person in front of him has only a marker
in his hand. A marker, representing his artistic trade, which is of
no consequence to the officer. Michael isn’t resisting, but,
nonetheless, the officer calls for backup.
some point, there are six officers, six, surround a man who isn’t
resisting. He’s just left a party where he drank, but he’s
trying to catch a train, not attempting to drive a car. Nonetheless,
Michael is beaten and somehow, ends up who seems to have fallen down
a flight of stairs. Strangely enough, Michael is “aggressive.”
Perhaps he might “emotionally disturbed.” The graffiti
artist is arrested and taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric
is already as horrible, but there’s more. When Michael arrives
at the hospital the medical staff see his hands are “hogtied.”
He’s in a coma. He’s arrived at the hospital, according
to an attending nurse, already in a coma. He’s not even
breathing. The doctors work to restore his breathing, but it doesn’t
last. Michael Stewart, who has only a marker, remains in a coma for
13 days. He dies on September 28, 1983.
Stewart is black.
same attending nurse reported that there were bruises and abrasions.
And, evidence, she stated, of strangulation. The Chief Medical
Examiner Elliot Gross changed his narrative about the cause of death
Virginia Law Archives record the death certificate which states
Stewart dies of a cardiac arrest. The bruises and abrasions placed
not role in the young man’s death. Thirty days later, Gross has
another narrative in which he admits there was a spinal cord injury.
Maybe that’s the cause. But then two years later, this story
changes too. By then Gross has no idea what caused Michael’s
death. Who knows? No opinion!
chief medical examiner in Massachusetts reviews the hospital records
and the autopsy report and found the cause of death to be that of
asphyxiation. The use of extreme force applied to Micheal Stewart’s
neck would account for the deprivation of oxygen. And wouldn’t
know, there was yet another witness who saw an office place a
nightstick across Michael’s neck, hold the victim of police
brutality in a chokehold! Another witness reported seeing police
kicking Michael’s body. The brutality Michael suffers occurs in
full view of these witnesses. And yet, the narrative of these eye
witness accounts is of no significance to the prosecution.
grand jury is in progress, and in attendance are family members of
the victim but many members of the NYPD. Of the six officers
involved, John Kostick (the first officer who confronts Stewart),
Henry Boerner, and Anthony Picola are charged with criminal negligent
homicide, assault and perjury. When the verdict comes in from an
all-white jury, a verdict of not guilty, the courtroom of officers
erupts into cheers and shots of relief. It’s over! Justice,
they believe, has taken their side.
failure. End of story! Close book! Michael Stewart was a drunk.
So reads the court records. The newspaper account. The caption under
the courtroom drawing. Justice
not Michael Stewart!
his mind’s eye, Jean-Michel sees Michael. He sees America. The
America Michael encountered that day in September 1983. It’s
the America most black Americans see today in 2018. It’s an
America with raised nightsticks—in perpetual motion,
perpetually reflecting the motion of capitalism as oppression. A
pounding, raining down. The painting is similar to those ancient
African hieroglyphics in that Basquiat, mindful of his creative
ancestors, reflects the daily life of black people.
in Jean-Michel’s Defacement
Death of Michael Stewart)
nightsticks of the two officers in blue, each on either side of the
small black figure—a solid black figure, any black figures,
with no distinguishing features, no arms, no hands. The black figure
has become the black marker used to express himself for the last
time. It’s Michael, the artist, becoming the inanimate thing,
the marker. It’s us becoming Michael Stewart. It’s
Jean-Michel as Micheal.
motives of the crown, of the conquistadors, of the adventurers, of
the hunters, and of the corporate suits—is only discernible to
some who see in the blue uniforms, he nightsticks, a history speaking
for the necessity of violence the golden exchange.
theft of our lives is justified, then and now. Lady Justice is made
doubly blind. No accountability then. No accountability now. Black
Lives Matter hold up this painting by Jean-Michel as a protest sign
is an example of restoring the value to art that the industry denies
works frantically now, almost non-stop, in a studio now. Bolero
in the background. He’s in motion. Almost floating in
paint-splattered Amani suits. Material sewn together—of no
value. Only the work.
in the 1980s, I heard the name, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and then,
sometime thereafter, I saw an image of CPRKP
(1982) in a book. I was trying to understand something about Jazz and
was beginning to think I was wasting my time. I didn’t have the
ear for it, and still don’t. I understood the blues and R&B
and rock, and even classical music. But Jazz seemed elusive until I
saw Jean-Michel’s tribute to Charlie Parker. Charlie.
Died at the “Stanhope Hotel (NYC), 35 years old, March 12,
1955.” But, nonetheless, he is. “CHARLES THE FIRST.”
Crowned! Naturally! A proper king to wear the
crown. Crowns, we see, acknowledge soul. Or the lack thereof. The
difference between a despot and an artist.
the tenor saxophone speak!
hadn’t students younger than 18-year old college students
before. I wasn’t eager to subject junior and senior high
school, Upward Bound, students to the usual topics: what do you think
about the death penalty? How about abortion? Or, what
did you do on your summer vacation? With such topics, I would only
receive an obligatory response, spread out over three to five
paragraphs, complete with three to five examples and a conclusion.
students from economically depressed neighborhoods would find it
difficult to convey the turmoil erupting in their communities as a
result of both Bill Clinton’s appeasement of the Right-wing
fundamentalists and Daley Jr’s commitment to his father’s
reign of indifference to the black and economically disadvantaged,
made even more so by policies intended to privatize, privatize,
privatize—advantaging the corporate class. As for vacation
narratives—I didn’t have the luxury of neither time nor
money to partake in any vacation. I taught part time at two to three
campuses, and so did the parents of these children.
those young people back in the 1990s, Jean-Michel was forever young.
Forever 27-years old. Forever the dreaded one! And graffiti too!
from the “hood!”
with the Jean-Michel-Charlie Parker duo? For that matter, Jean-Michel
and the “all-stars”?
worked for about a year, on about a million paintings… Andy
would start most of the paintings. He would start one and put
something very recognizable on it, or a product logo, and then I
would sort of deface it…
the 1980s, during his collaboration with Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel
still doesn’t equivocate. He enjoys being in the company of
Warhol and enjoys Warhol’s friendship, clear from the countless
images of the two of them holding onto each other seemingly for dear
life while the camera’s of the New York paparazzi surround
them. The two arrive in print slick and glossy. Journalists speak of
the art world’s darlings. The art world and the world of
celebrity gossip merging to feed hungry consumers of art.
there’s Jean-Michel still. There’s Jean-Michel
referencing the movement of blue notes from the hieroglyphics on the
cave walls in ancient Africa to it’s trot across the global.
Recovering the “primitive” from Picasso, (Brown
calls on Charlie and the all-stars of Jazz. Blue notes appear.
Flourishing. Rising beyond the reach of those profiteers of capital.
They can never really kill the artists of the blue notes.
is what Jean-Michel knows. He has the blue notes too. Naturally.
Crowned with them. See him operate in a different zone?
a silkscreen canvas, on ground level now, Warhol situates two images
of the ARM & HAMMER logo, (Arm
& Hammer II),
(1985). The corporate logo lies
on the canvas, flat, pristine. Basquiat sees it. Baking soda cleans.
Baking soda whiteness. Baking soda deodorizes. What doesn’t it
picks up his paint brush and acrylic palate. On the same canvas,
Jean-Michel paints a dark blue band over the face of the corporate
logo, ARM & HAMMER. In the band is the word “Commemorative”
in white lettering. And, in white littering, the word is crossed out!
It’s dead: the thing used to erase, cleanse, make us forget the
not-so-invisible hand. Remember it once had been empowered. Over and
above human beings. A destroyer of human beings, of artists. And as
the blue notes rise, so does Charlie Parker, Jean-Michel’s
hero. From the depths of a deceased culture where he was forced to
hibernate within a narrative unfurling the vile and vicious: a fallen
king, a dope-addict, a loser, Jean-Michel restores his freedom.
“LIBERTY 1955.” Not death! The king is alive, more than
he ever was in life, when he too was pounded by the nightsticks, by
the demand of the profiteers to be a “good” or else.
Flying where the blue notes reside.
them blue notes floating up from the mouth of his tenor saxophones?
Hear the music everywhere now. Hear the music drown out the cha ching
of cash registers. Ubiquitous blue notes silence the noise of the
stock exchange. Blue notes free the enslaved.
Charlie’s teeth. Ready for battle. “NOT FOR SALE.”
Not Charlie! Not Jean-Michel Basquiat, either!
Charlie’s tenor saxophone—it’s in use! He’s
using it for “CHARLIE PARKER REBOPPERS.” (Discography
(1983). And it’s in use when Charlie plays in “MILES
DAVIS ALL*STARS.” (Discography
is back and everybody is busy! Look there: Miles,
on trumpet, Parker, on saxophone, John Lewis, on piano, Nelson Boyd,
on bass, and Max Roach, on drums! All the names written out as if in
white chalk on a black painted canvas.
At an old-style blackboard. Jean-Michel teaching! All you need to
know about Jazz. And teaching, too.
king of ringing cash registers wherever his brand is sold, outlines
two images of the same, one and only, Eiffel Towers. Each standing in
front of a gray bland background. A gray-sky Paris and two images of
the iconic towers in Paris.
to Warhol’s two towers, Jean-Michel adds a third Eiffel tower.
His, drawn in red, as if crayoned in by a small child, resembles a
structure in impending danger of collapse. Here, the artist can’t
deface the collapse. Only warn: A
tower as unshapely as it is wobbly, barely on its foundation—is
our world! And
Jean-Michel’s Eiffel Tower is literally off the ground on one
side. The entire structure, leaning on one leg, is tilted, on the
brink of tipping over. A precarious situation for such a monumental
work of art and tourist attraction. A colossal disaster in the
making—and yet, the bell at the stock exchange rings out
Monday-Friday, tourists with the highly desirable flow of cash flood
the scene. There and here. And wherever Western values flourish, the
homeless are forced to scattered into oblivion.
can’t manage capitalism. Capitalism manages us. It’s
profit-driven disregard of the evidence of climate change has
humanity on the brink of toppling. No artist will be around to
re-assemble the pieces. No griot of the canvas to help us see. We
will be no longer.
was writing gold on all that stuff and I made all this money right
30th anniversary of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s death (from an overdose
of Heroin) was August 12, 2018. It was also the one year anniversary
of the Charlottesville’s protest and the death of the 32-year
old activist, Heather Heyer, killed by a white supremacist who drove
a car deliberately into a crowd of anti-racist, anti-fascist
protesters. No doubt he would have depicted this crime too in a long
series of killings, scarring and dividing us, distracting all from
the real business we have yet to confront as a whole people.
Capitalism does not and can never serve life! Some that have and some
that don’t; there go by the grace of god; categories of
humanity cut off and discarded; children detained in cages—all
of this and more can no longer be acceptable, labeled “democratic”
anti-fascism means we look to an alternative ways of empowering life,
of saving our planet. It means we really honor Jean-Michel by saying
enough to an economic system that produces the “leeches,”
the “power” and “money” hungry (Leeches,
1983), who operate as if Boric acid—eating right through the
good we try to do. Pearly-white smiles employed in lieu of the
nightstick fooled Toussaint, depicted by Jean-Michel in his black
bicorn hat, but almost crossed out with black lines in Toussaint
L'Ouverture v. Savonarola,
believing he would be rewarded (mind you) for stripping Spain and
France of its source of gold and labor. Robbed of the fruits of his
creativity, his labor, his crown, too, is denied him. Instead, of
freedom, Toussaint travels to France where he mistakenly thinks his
fight against the injustice enslavement of Haitian people would
endear him to the European way of thinking about meaning of freedom.
Even today, there’s a difference of opinion between the still
enslaved and the so-called free people. Toussaint finds himself
enclosed within the walls of a dungeon, separated from his life.
Toussaint 0 and the Christians 1.
that would be the end of his narrative, except Jean-Michel asks that
we remember the betrayal so that the Haitian leader lives on in our
memory. In our moving forward.
And there have
been others, too. A politics of and for the life of the people is a
struggle to continue.
year, in May, 2017, (Untitled,
(a black head) by Jean-Michel sold for 110.5 million dollars. “He’s
now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso,’
said the dealer Jeffrey Deitch, an expert on Basquiat” (New
I doubt if Jean-Michel would be so celebratory at the attempt to
deface him. He didn’t want to see himself, an artist, turned
into a commodity. Bought and sold. The
labor and creativity of Jean-Michel Basquiat on auction. Sold as so
many golden nuggets for the lucky buyer.
isn’t for sale! The message
his work isn’t for sale, to be erased, covered over,
whitewashed by a culture too diseased to know it no longer viable.
The necessity of defacing capitalism, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s
message, to be forever removed from our collective memory by
profiteers, is no longer possible. His work is ours to continue.
to where he’s shown us the blue notes reside. And then rise!
Rise up, if you dare!