Anatomy of an artwork
Basquiat’s Hollywood Africans, 1983
Look and listen
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting is both an indictment and a statement of intent. Against shouty yellow, words scratched in his blocky, spiky writing denote racial stereotypes. “Paw paw”, painted across an image of the artist’s hand, is a particularly sharp verbal/visual pun. It seems to point up the obscene view of black people as animals.
Standing accused is the film industry and the limited roles available to black talent. The date, 1940, may refer to the year Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for playing Gone With The Wind’s racial caricature, Mammy.
The mix of street art and ab-ex stylistic tics lend the painting a raw energy. But this gives way to a trans-historical web of references, spanning the history of slavery to downtown New York’s creative quarters. SS Basquiat: Boom for Real, Barbican Art Gallery, EC2, to 28 Jan
Star system Basquiat’s complex history lesson