Basquiat: Radiant Black Child

Iconclastic is defined as “attacking or ignoring cherished beliefs and long-held traditions, etc.,as being based on error, superstition, or lack of creativity.”  This is Jean-Michel Basquiat.  He took the white male-dominated art world by storm in the 1980s because he defied what they deemed as the medium that only they could control.   The story of Basquiat’s life is simultaneously mesmerizing, inspiring and tragic.  The child of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother he was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1960. Today would have been his 56th birthday.

Slide1.jpgEbony Magazine contributor Michael Gonzalez writes about Basquiat and his impact in the art space of his time,“Established art critics were divided on what to make of this dreadlocked interloper rapidly changing their scene with his “rock star” status and the gall to make a king’s crown his logo.” Although there was no question of his talent, it is Basquiat’s fierce, confidence and renegade spirit that set him apart and facilitated his meteoric rise.

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Langston Hughes poem featured in the documentary,  Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Black Child

But it is not enough to merely see his work and say, “Wow, that’s dope.” We urge you to consider the meaning of his genius, his life and his death in a white-dominated world. Before Basquiat became a famous artist, he dropped out of high school and along with a friend, Al Diaz, began tagging up the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Which leads us to wonder as educators, how could the trajectory of his life been different if he had remained in school? Did his teachers recognize and help nurture his brilliance? However we might imagine the role of his teachers in his life, what is most telling is Basquiat’s determination to fully realize his own brilliance with or without school as a place of nurturing or support. And as the hip hop bard, Biggie Smalls aptly puts it:

Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me
I’d never amount to nothin’…

Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood
And it’s still all good

Our choice to honor and focus on black brilliance like that of Basquiat is deliberate.  We believe that as culturally responsive educators it is imperative that we acknowledge and develop the young geniuses that we encounter every day, in every black and brown face. We must become adept at recognizing that brilliance comes in many forms and styles. Brilliance can be observed from just a few months old through adulthood. It has always been there, we just need to look with new eyes.

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The artwork of students in Detroit centers on PRIDE

As we celebrate the talent and brilliance of Basquiat, let us commit to making our classrooms spaces and places where that kind of mind is met with love, encouragement and respect.

Peace good people…

 

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