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Reclaiming histories


“To see and understand these paintings, one must be willing to accept the tragic dimensions of black life.”
– Bell Hooks, author, scholar and activist

Like signs recently carried by protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and across North America, Basquiat’s works insist that black lives matter. The artist faced racism and social hypocrisy in his everyday life: Basquiat was celebrated by the art world but unable to catch a cab in New York City. He channelled these experiences into powerful paintings that draw on narratives of black history and the African diaspora. His layered canvases explore slavery and colonialism while also connecting these historic persecutions to current racist practices such as police brutality. By taking on these histories, Basquiat becomes an agent of change.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Irony of a Negro Policeman, 1981
Acrylic on canvas
183 x 122 cm
Private Collection
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York