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Est. April 5, 2002
September 06, 2018 - Issue 754

Jean-Michel Basquiat
A Few Words About Defacing Capitalism

"We 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."

I start with a picture and then finish it.

I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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 feelings.

George Orwell, “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 (1982).

Is the title of this painting alluding to a culture that is Kafkaesque? Something unnatural? Absurd?

The 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.

Aztec 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.

It’s 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 artist.

Here’s 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.

If we, the viewers, look back at K, we 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.

In 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.

All good for corporations. Serial killers.

Domestic 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 tenements and vacant lots and on foreign cities 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!

Today, 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 and its character! 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 and character then or now?

No, 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 work can’t speak to those whose stories are being whitewashed, trampled upon, crossed out, by the current conquistadors in search of capital.

And what of identical images of Marilyn Monroe? Iconic. And a woman!

There’s 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.

If all viewers of Warhol’s work could see in Marilyn the selling of dreams, illusions, built on mascara and lipstick, on white skin…

Warhol 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 society, outside the mainstream is, in fact, a very real expression of our obliging an inhumane system that is capitalism.

Outside and inside doesn’t exist. There’s only profit. Profit. And more profit. Everything must be evaluated for the exchange. Reproducing 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. That’s its work. Jean-Michel’s work is to represents the truth of what capitalism defaces. To deface in turn. With crown, triumphantly.

When 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.

Basquiat 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 artistic, relates to and speaks of the worship of the All-Mighty $.


From 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.

Jean-Michel 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 repeated.

Spain’s crown financed 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 Big, 1982). Jean-Michel’s 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?

Can we remember Dr. King on that balcony in Memphis, as Jean-Michel remembers in The Nile, 1983? The King, bleeding to death in “MEMPHIS” is linked to the history of black people—the people of the Nile. Pre-Christian. King assassinated speaking against imperialism and war profiteers. MLK assigned to die. “HEMLOCK” in a bullet.

We 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.

In Four Big, the word, “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!

The 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 New 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,” “Inc.” One word atop another. Protest banner! So similar to the artist’s graffiti paintings.

Who is this artist?

A 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.

To 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 character! The value of 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!

There’s 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.

MISSIONARIES.” Again. Fundamentalism, this time.

After the ships cross the water, we’re wearing masks. No longer exclusively in the domain of “art.”

Graffiti 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 line of Jean-Michel’s Native Carrying reads: “I won’t even mention gold.” Again!

Jean-Michel, Jean-Michel, Jean-Michel!

And 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! “Corte ℩.” 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…


The early morning encounter between two 25-year old males in New York takes place after the city announces, as official state of business with outside expressions 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.

Graffiti 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?

Michael 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.

Another 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.

At 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 observation.

This 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.

Michael Stewart is black.

That 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 three times.

The 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!

A 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.

A 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.

Heart 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 served!

But not Michael Stewart!

In 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.

So in Jean-Michel’s Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983), there’s the raised 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.

The 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.

The 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 it.

Jean-Michel 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.


Sometime 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.

Hear the tenor saxophone speak!

I 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.

My 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.

For those young people back in the 1990s, Jean-Michel was forever young. Forever 27-years old. Forever the dreaded one! And graffiti too! Graffiti from the “hood!”

What’s with the Jean-Michel-Charlie Parker duo? For that matter, Jean-Michel and the “all-stars”?


We 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…

In 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.

But 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 Jaw, 1986), Jean-Michel 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.

This is what Jean-Michel knows. He has the blue notes too. Naturally. Crowned with them. See him operate in a different zone?

On 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 do?

Jean-Michel 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.

Charlie. Set free.

Bird! Flying where the blue notes reside.

See 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.

See Charlie’s teeth. Ready for battle. “NOT FOR SALE.” Not Charlie! Not Jean-Michel Basquiat, either!

And Charlie’s tenor saxophone—it’s in use! He’s using it for “CHARLIE PARKER REBOPPERS.” (Discography One) (1983). And it’s in use when Charlie plays in “MILES DAVIS ALL*STARS.” (Discography Two) (1983). Everybody 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.

Teaching! At an old-style blackboard. Jean-Michel teaching! All you need to know about Jazz. And teaching, too.


Warhol, 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.

Next 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.

We 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.


I was writing gold on all that stuff and I made all this money right afterwards.

The 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” or “life.”

Anti-racism, 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, (1983), into 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.

And 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.

Remember the betrayal! And there have been others, too. A politics of and for the life of the people is a struggle to continue.

Last year, in May, 2017, (Untitled, 1982) (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 York Times). 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.

But Jean-Michel isn’t for sale! The message of 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.

Look to where he’s shown us the blue notes reside. And then rise! Rise up, if you dare! Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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