I wanted to start the new year writing about something that compels me, something that moves me deeply but also something that gives me hope because honestly, Barack made a hit urging us to believe and to hope but I do wonder how much hope we can honestly spruce up in this day and age.
As much as I am reminded daily of the somewhat exponential abilities of our kind (yes I am talking about the potential of all social beings), I am just as much reminded of the frailty of what we have designed for ourselves and, let’s use a word that hardly touches my lips, our survival or at least the survival of our own. I am neither trying to be poetic nor cryptic, I promise. I yearn for clarity and simplicity but there is nothing simple or clear about being a human today. Navigating our world can be equated to traversing the oceans on an extremely tumultuous journey into the roughest of waters in the toughest areas of the planet on the weakest sea craft imaginable… Not impossible but getting ugh (yes you gotta make that face) so close…
Many of us don’t even make resolutions anymore. What for? If the goal is to not keep our promise for bodily improvement, professional betterment or spiritual upliftment, then I am sure many of us have attained it. Is it safer, wiser to think of cycles, some never-ending, some temporary, many alternating… Does it make sense to look at life for what it might just be: a series of unadulterated joy and seemingly unfair sorrow, all of it too tangled up, too intricately woven to really discern and appreciate? We are the products of our thoughts, we are the sum of our history ** and that could not be truer of a certain Jean-Michel Basquiat… the one person who gave me a zest of hope and a “brainful” of creative a-has and gasps on a particularly freezing day in the Paris that I cannot seem to break up with (more on that at some other time… my love for a select number of megalopolis is a vast and bizarre subject for blog writing).
I can always be enticed, seduced, flattered, subdued by Art and Creativity (this is not my revealing a secret for pretentious suitors to make a note of). Art for the senses and Art for the mind, this resolutely political and politicised mind of mine… And what to make of the colossal body of work this Black, Caribbean and therefore Africa-originating young man was able to produce in the span of what… 8 years?!!! This erudite yet self-taught, history and music fanatic, non-conforming and spiritually inclined denouncer of the brutal social ills of his, of our time. I mean who does that?! Who has so much talent and so much premonitory powers that for some he even laid out the groundwork for the emergence of the internet and the mass communication and social platforms we now use without the slightest effort…?
At a time when few could openly spit at the face of the supremacists and oligarchs and misogynists whose colonial endeavours had overturned the world unequivocally, rose his voice, his art, his words (repeated over and over again), his crown, his Blackness in all its glory and in all its depth.
People have and will easily criticise the work of Basquiat. Many have brushed off his technique or for some, lack thereof. Many have dismissed the profundity of his discourse. Many have seen in him a troubled, constantly intoxicated, marginalised brat.
And this is not the place nor the time to respond to said critiques or to even attempt at rebuking the nay-sayers, the skeptics, the dislikers. I say it all the time… to each his own. As I view it, Jean is my own. I sport an incomparable appreciation for the profusion of symbols and motifs in his work, for the insatiable and desperate hunger for more and better, for the audacity of speaking truth all. the. time, for the re-appropriation of our cubism, our abstract, our lines, our geometry, our heads, our nails, our art.
In our quest for survival, as I watch the sheer anger and hatred that some no longer contain or hide even in the face of youthfulness***, I look at those heads, those tall, straight, haunting Black figures, those colours that seem to have left their tubes almost hastily or desperately, those raw materials that stand as reminders of our resilience and indomitable spirit and I pause. If a 20-something was able to see the chaos, to understand it and to turn it into so much creative power, then my almost 40-something self can believe and/or hope in the actualisation of our wildest dreams, of our once thought unattainable goals, no? Well… at least, until mortality catches up… because the brother did die young, eh…
“I don’t pay attention to the world ending. It has ended for me many times and began again in the morning.” Nayyirah Waheed, Salt
*From Basquiat’s 1987 “She Installs Confidence and Picks His Brain Like a Salad”
**As said by rapper Oddisse in the magnificent episode of Undone, watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKkuF2gfK3M
***Take the time to watch this video shot by a member of Dream Defenders, a not-for-profit organisation based in Florida. It truly shook me to the core…strange how we can still be so hurt by human stupidity and anguish.https://www.instagram.com/p/Bs6qIMQlt8-/