Thursday, February 4, 2016

Highlights of Schomburg Center's Hosted "Basquiat and Contemporary Queer Art" Conversation

Dr. David Clinton Wills, Kimberly Drew, Juliana Huxtable, Andre Singleton, and Dr. Jordana Saggese led an enlightening discussion on contributions Jean-Michel Basquiat brought into the art world and how he continues to relate to the now.
On Monday evening, I visited the Schomburg Center for the second time in my life to see the "Basquiat and Contemporary Queer Talk." Curated by Basquiat Still Fly @ 55 founders Ja'nell Ajane and Ayanna Legros and held in the Langston Hughes Auditorium, the remarkable panelists were Black Contemporary Art's Kimberly Drew, artist/deejay/poet Juliana Huxtable (star of the New Museum Triennial), author Dr. Jordana Saggese, Very Black's Andre Singleton, and Dr. David Clinton Wills.
Its purpose was to discuss Basquiat in this imperial present, placing his amazing, powerful, distinctive work into black body intersections, black body perception. Stimulating dialogue spoke on Basquiat's progressive influence on queer thinkers and art/sociology theorists, bridging narrative between complex minds and visual language.
"There was potential for conflating, room for vibrance, dynamism, queerness, resolution, blackness, and death-- celebration, ritual."
The panel analyzed Basquiat in different angles. Semantics and racial identity politics addressed his heritage as Haitian and Puerto Rican, his multi-disciplinary interests, his fluency in English, Spanish, and French, his use of African words and ancestry, historical negativity. Each sharp shooting response activated my resurgent love for the tragic painter, an intelligent man whose methodical practice and heavy hitting dialect came and exited my life at varied intervals.
This conversation made me utterly realize that he can never be a fleeing force ever again.
Basquiat is here to stay. His body may no longer spray paint sophisticated prose on random buildings or cross out grouped linguistics on torn cardboard scraps with thickly applied Oil Bar sticks, his work remains active and alive. Generation after generation continues to find something resonating about Basquiat-- whether it be his paintings, his drawings, his writings, his fashion statements, his intelligence, his attractiveness.
Of Basquiat, their instructor had said, "he broke boxes, broke chains, and broke constrains." She also said that one of the best aspects of teaching was to inspire and support students and that it was wonderful to include Basquiat in the contemporary scope. She introduced her students with beaming pride. Ayanna Legros (left) and Ja'nell Ajani (right) founders and curators of Basquiat Still Fly @ 55 giving thanks to all those that made this special event possible.
After opening up with Dr. Clinton Wills reading Langston Hughes' famous poem, "Genius Child" and a sincerely respectful moment of silence, the panelists discuss what led them to pay close attention to Basquiat and the frank messages his work provoked.
"I discovered him through Julian Schnabel's film. I thought the story fascinating. Basquiat redefined painting, invented a newer perception, threatened to eclipse his contribution to art, establish awareness of his place, wasn't ignorant and still very significant today."- Singleton
"I was aesthetically drawn to this cool, weird art kid, his unapologetic fashion shaped my college art history."- Huxtable 
"Basquiat had an access to an idea, championed a certain kind of cannon, eventually realizing few black artists operating on prolific, avante garde mannerism. He set model for questions, sense of experimentation from art, music, dynamic, [incorporating] difficult language, text and imagery, colonialism with strong disgust and frustration, [displaying] sensibility and rare visibility."- Saggese
"First day I encountered Basquiat, [seeing] violence on modern art. I contested with him, but he was there first, a genius. I had denied him. He had a sense of "black love," productivity of human body, history interpretation, crafted beautiful dynamism, oppress expression, context of being unafraid of your own power, your own creativity and tenderness."- Drew
" [There] was constant negotiation in him establishing his own pantheon. He gives figures currency by putting them on coins, taking things from text books, art museums, multi lingual. Like Romare Beardon and Bob Thompson, inserting self in broader context."- Saggese
One of the panelists said, "he made a space for us to sit." They couldn't have any more correct. A few more highlights, I captured here.
They articulately spoke of Basquiat's legacy softened by the impact of post modern core-- commericalism. He negotiated race and blackness in the art expression, the effortless importance of recognition. He had been so successful, a savvy businessman very aware of his power, his position.

"He was the first DIY [artist] on MTV and GQ, taking up responsibility as a scholar before art history could catch up, to go vital without agency, tripped of name ownership, mediate proximity, a name that once was a life."

After the engaging conversation ended, mesmerizing to the brink of my stimulated brain, I left the Langston Hughes Auditorium and took a moment to stand in awe at his interment. Underneath maroon circle with turquoise outline and schematic lightning bolt cracks, lies a cosmogram medallion, his remains. I shut out the gathering crowd, feeling his eloquent poetry invade and sink right into my pores-- right on his 113th birthday.  I couldn't believe fated luck.
It was a needed experience. The sustenance granted a sated soulful fullness.
"Tenderness and authentic are not weak emotions."- Saggese
Visionary voices of Langston and Jean-Michel, two vulnerable, brilliant humans, shared the cerebral cortex of my mental stage. whispering to continue onward as both artist and writer.
And I simply cannot refuse.

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