Looking at Art and Racism: Changing people's belief of the world using Art, Series One Day Five.


                     " I am with you

                        But the history walks

                        With me too!"

                                                Quote from Jean Michelle Basquiat 



Defacement: the tragic story of Basquiat's most personal painting | Art and  design | The GuardianDay Five Jean Michael Basquiat' s "Defacement" 1983

Jean Michel Basquiat was a painter in the mid -1980's. He was an incredible colorist. His father was

Haitian and his mother Peurto Rican, and Jean Michelle Basquiat was fluent in three languages. He left

home at 17, because of differences with his father, an accountant who did not understand his artistic son,

and was homeless until he was discovered by Andy Warhol and other artists. He started as a graffiti artist

under the tag name "Samo" and tagged poetry all over the village in NYC. before he was well known. He

was also homeless, during this time and slept in a cardboard box in the winter. He was friends also with

Keith Harring who also started as a graffiti artist and also died at a young age, of aids. Basquiat was also

a talented musician. Sadly the overnight changes from being homeless to being famous and the party life

that went with it, and questions of identity and fame and what that meant, were too much for Basquiat

and he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. He was a deeply sensitive individual who almost felt

stereotyped and trapped by fame, He was loved by Andy Warhol, and loved him too, and had a two-man

exhibition with him, at his gallery owner's advice hoping to have them both, catapulted to more fame.

But this exhibit backfired, Andy Warhol's fame was dwindling and Basquiat was described as his

"puppy." Basquait who can be seen in interviews at the time challenging press for their racist and

stereotypical portrayals of him, such as calling his work "Tribal," was devasted by, this comment. He left

immediately for Hawai and then Los Angeles to distance himself from Warhol. He had considered

Warhol a good friend but now questioned whether he and everyone else had used him. Many people

consider now, that Basquiat was the most commercially exploited of, all artists. What made it worse was

that before they could reunite Warhol died unexpectedly from gall-bladder surgery and so no recon-

ciliation was made. When Basquiat returned to NYC, he did so clean of drugs but soon returned to the

Drugs that killed him.

The Jean-Michel Basquiat I knew… | Art and design | The Guardian
Andy Warhol and Basquiat posing for their exhibition.
I was looking through his paintings for this challenge and probably would have chosen one with more

richness of color, before I found this one, "Defacement" ( the beating of Michael Stewart). I chose it

because of its relevance to recent events. Michael Stewart was a Black graffiti artist who was beaten to

death by five white police officers, while he was being arrested for making graffiti. Some even

questioned that he made graffiti that night, that the beating, and what was found later to be strangulation,

happened because the police saw him being kissed by a white woman. Basquait's girlfriend knew this

man and describes that, Basquait was very shaken by this because he realized, it could just as easily have

been him! Which is why he made this painting. Basquait realized that in spite of his notoriety, to the

white police he would have just been another faceless black man at the time, Which bothered him

greatly! One of his friends who was also, an African American artist talked about the racism at the time,

and how it would often take at least six cabs before a cab driver would pick them up. This racism really

bothered Basquait who his friend said, "would sometimes grab the door and say 'fuck you man' in his


Last night, as I listened to Dr.Alice Green describe her upbringing in the Northern Adirondacks. I was

struck by how in her youth, this brilliant and self-assured woman, described herself as not liking herself;

her hair her, skin color, etc. Because as one of the only black families there, she felt something was

wrong with her because she did not fit the "White norm." and because of the racism directed to her. She

describes how when she went for hotel jobs as a teenager she was expected to sleep in a barn and not the

better quarters of her white friends. White supremacy had contributed to this view of herself. To me,

there is something seriously wrong with people, or a society that sees itself as superior because of the

color of their skin! Basquiat also suffered from racism, he considered " Defacement" as one of his

most important paintings, it was personal he took his girlfriend to see it! Although racism and history

of the African American is found in many of his paintings, this painting is his most outwardly political.
Jean-Michel Basquiat Quotes & Sayings (14 Quotations)

In "Defacement," you see Basquait's use of color in the policeman and the scene around them. This

painting is simple but direct. The same type of line is used in the word "defacemento" as in the line

above Michel Stewart's head, outlining the policemen and the Jewish star, connecting these four things.

The line above Stewart's head is used to indicate the beatings. The star a reference to the treatment of

Jews in Nazi Germany and the plight of the black man then. The outline of the policemen highlights the

beating. and using the same type of line in " defacemento" highlights the point of the painting. To the

policeman, that African American man is dehumanized. This is emphasized by Basquiat's depiction of

Michael Stewart, a black and brown faceless silhouette with his hands behind his back, an "everyman"

of police Brutality!

This painting is like most of Basquait's painting, simple, almost childlike at first, But containing a

sophistication and poignant message that can not be missed! It reminded me of how NYC was when I

first visited and then moved here.

I first came to the USA to visit my sister, Gill, in the mid-1980s, who at the time lived in a cooperative

house with her husband and some of her friends in Brooklyn NY. ( which she and her husband brought

and became their home a few years later) On the second night of my first visit to NYC, I was waiting in

the sunroom for my sister, when I heard a huge scream outside and saw a young African American man

run by. A few minutes later I saw the same young man without some of his clothing walking in the other

direction. It turned out that this young man had mugged one of my sister's roommates who was an older

disabled man. He had been caught, on the block, because a passer-by had witnessed it and had screamed

for help and the police came immediately because the police were close by. The roommate was taken to

the hospital and the witness identified the mugger. But when the police heard what I had seen, I was

escorted by another roommate to a Brooklyn police station to give a statement.
While I was waiting to give a statement I could hear the young man being beaten up in the next-door

room. I begged Irwin, who was with me, to address it; which he did. The police officer came back with

Irwin and said, " You bleeding heart democratic jerks, you do not know the real world. He will most

likely get off in court, someone has to teach him a lesson! " Irwin and I left the police station in disgust

and I never told my family in England to this day.

A year or two later I met my ex-husband and six months later I moved to Brooklyn to be with him. This

all occurred during Regan's time and then George H Bush's presidency. At the time there was a huge

amount of corruption in the Brooklyn police department and clearly racism. Huge efforts were made to

clean up once Clinton was President and when Mario Cumo was Governor. It was around the time

Cuomo spoke of NYC being " A Tale of two cities." because of the racism.

It was a shock, to someone who had been brought up in England, that the police were there to protect

you! I was well aware of racism, in my own country, as my master's thesis was on how to make my art

teaching more multiculturally based, after I had become frustrated at how the same issues were

regurgitated without a solution. It was also a little after the race-based riots in Saint Pauls, Bristol in the

Self-Portrait as a Heel' Giclee Print - Jean-Michel Basquiat | Art.com
Basquiat's "The artist as a heel."

I Am Not A Black Artist, I Am An Artist. – Jean-Michel Basquiat -  Quotespictures.com

Things seemed to improve a little for a few years, in NYC, but racism has never stopped being a problem

throughout the United States, particularly in Southern states. Which brings us to today.

In recent years particularly during Trump's time in office, racism has become worse. Donald Trump has

fueled racism and hate!

Today we can not even begin to talk about an "even playing field," because the stresses and the poverty

that many African Americans have to deal with, is beyond comprehension! The divide between rich and

poor has become and is becoming so huge, that I feel sometimes like we have moved back to Victorian

times! This is seen most acutely in NYC, where gentrification has completely got out of hand and where

poorer people have had to move to Poughkeepsie and other, close by towns to afford rent and commute to

their jobs.

Even in Harlem, The Center of the Black Renaissance after the Great migration, I was told by a friend

who lives there, she overheard a rich white couple who had moved there recently., complaining about "

The singing from the Black churches!"

So when I found this picture I thought about what had changed from the mid-1980s and what had not!

Jean Michel Basquait found himself homeless then because of his color and because of the recession. He

was commercially exploited by the galleries, who did not anticipate or care enough about him as a person

in his sudden rise to fame at such a young age. This is seen in the quote above. He felt as a black man

that he was not fully seen as someone that was famous because of his work but as a mascot or plaything.

Police brutality was bad then, but now it is worse than I think it has ever been! But Racism; racism is at

an all-time high! So like others, I wish there was no looting and that people could be heard on peaceful

terms! But the rage is too strong and our African American brothers and sisters have been suppressed for

far too long! The Police Brutality of Michael Stewart was graphically depicted in Basquait's Deface-

ment," so why was it ignored?! Defacement means 'the action or process of spoiling the surface or 

appearance of something,' how could Basquiat have been more blatant in this title?! That this was happening 

because of the color of Michael Stewart's skin?! This painting is not often shown, you question the racism of 

this?! Why did it take hundreds, more likely thousands of African Americans killed before it was believed? 

Why did it take the graphic murder of George Floyd, taking his last breath for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, 

before the white man could understand the inhumanity there?!      

The inhumane killing of George Floyd was the tip of the iceberg! What affects one, affects all. We can no

longer stand idly by. WHITE PEOPLE DO SOMETHING!!


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