Anatomy of an art­work

Basquiat’s Hol­ly­wood Africans, 1983

The Guardian - The Guide - - Exhibitions -

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.

Booby prize

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.

Ex­press your­self

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

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