Embrace Black Culture
Opposing White Supremacy through Art — Jean-Michel Basquiat
Living in the diaspora, Black people produced unique cultural values. Common themes run through the river of collective Black dreams. These themes include liberation and opposition. Everyday life asks a lot of Black people who often suppress their expressions to fit into social boxes. Artists smash those boxes, expressing love, pain, hope, and dreams. Knowing that white supremacy possesses its own culture, one key aspect of opposition is an artistic expression. America should embrace black culture by supporting Black artists’ endeavors.
Art has influenced culture, introducing people to new concepts, themes, and perspectives. The influence of art transcends time and possesses the power to impact people, using artwork from past civilizations. Race influences the culture of the day. It also shapes how future civilizations will view our time. Artists share their unique view of the world.
“Black artists have shared exquisite portrayals of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans through their paintings, sculptures and other artwork. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Augusta Savage, Kara Walker, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks and other artists help to illuminate the African American perspective to the world” (Famous Black Arts, 2020).
Depictions of Black people influence cultural associations. Art holds cultural weight. Artistic Activists, during the 1960s, used the symbols of black power to instill pride in African American people. Exhibiting a variety of art forms, they demonstrated visions of Black power for everyone to see. Unlike many artists who portrayed Black people as racially neutral, Artistic Activists used the themes present in their lives.
Basquiat used a raw style of expression. He used a neo-expression methodology. Despite his rough-around-the-edges style, Basquiat broke through the fine-art ceiling. He transformed culture using his art, inspiring discussions about justice, racial identity, and racially unjust, broken systems.
“Basquiat’s painting career took off, which included works displaying his crown motif, a celebration of Black power. He also used social dichotomies, appropriated text and images, and included historical elements in his paintings to express contemporary criticisms” (Famous Black Arts, 2020).
Although he became a prominent artist, Jean-Michael Basquiat, was not artistically limited by the opinions of critics. His art reflected the mind of a free Black man, living in the diaspora, resisting the chains of expectations the world had for him.
“The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them” (Smith, 2016).
Visual art must reflect the movement for racial justice to create a culture shift. Basquiat started as a graffiti artist. Modern young Black artists use street murals to express their uninhibited style. Street murals, created as an homage to George Floyd, dotted the urban landscape.
These murals, depicting Black trauma and hopes, provide an opportunity for all people to witness perspectives from the diaspora. Street art demanded change and expressed the pain felt by Black Americans, pushing the narrative forward.
Changing culture is not limited to visual art. Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neal Hurston were Harlem Renaissance writers who influenced literary culture by providing fresh perspectives on the black experience. These writers gave voices to Black people, providing context for the changes taking place.
Traditional American culture reflects white supremacist values. As a result, Americans undervalue Black artistic contributions. Under these circumstances, their excellence was in defiance against racist beliefs about black intellectualism.
Music also played a pivotal role in causing cultural shifts during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968 James Brown sang, Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud. This song encouraged Black people to have pride in who they were. Its influence was far-reaching. Using similar themes, The Last Poets released a song in 1969 called, When the Revolution Comes. This song inspired black people, instilling hope in their hearts that Black liberation is possible.
Media arts documented the movement, highlighting the events that occurred. “King-A Filmed Record-Montgomery to Memphis” (1970) for example, was nominated for an Academy Award and documented the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., his movement for racial equality, and the cultural influence on society. Increased representation in the movie industry will create a positive impact on American culture.
Historically, America identified white men as the protagonist, missing the mark. This method fails to explore the experiences of Black people. Modern documentaries provide an insider’s perspective on the systematic racism Black people experience. Documentaries like Assata Shakur: Eyes of the Rainbow, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, and Stranger Fruit embody modern social ills of Africans living in the diaspora.
The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings — Basquiat
America cannot move on from the conversation about racism without acknowledging the pain. Looking away from Black culture further marginalizes Black people. The fine-art community should embrace Black artists, Basquiat, willing to express the complexities of Black life.
Changing culture through art is a process that takes time and multi-disciplinary products. Inspiration is an essential factor in the sustainability of a movement. Artists obtain inspiration, in part, from the support they receive. As a revolutionary act, support Black artists. Peer into their imagination. Black culture is exuberant; Americans should embrace it and never let go.
Famous Black Artists. (2020, January 29). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/people/groups/black-artists
Smith, K. (2016, March 08). Review: In Basquiat’s “Unknown Notebooks,” words yield art. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.artsatl.org/review-basquiat-unknown-notebooks/