12 May 2007

Elizabeth Alexander

[from Elizabeth Alexander's Black Interior, 2004]

I mean to make a point about myopia. When Basquiat's not being called a savage, he's being called brilliant because of the way his work is supposed to pay homage to white artists. The point is, what do critics, whose job it is to see and contextualize, bother to know about black artists and how do the limitations on that knowledge make them canonize a Basquiat who only makes sense in the most offensive racist scenarios.

Basquiat's work is made for other men. . . . His fiercely intelligent work (work "about knowing," in the words of Robert Storr) and thrilling high-wire chutzpah encoded a blackness to be read and deciphered. If you can "read" this work, it suggests, then you can be a smarty-pants, too. These drawings are filled with glyphs, words that do not lead to tidy comprehension. . .

Basquiat's work relishes the visceral experience of reading as well as the acts of attaining and displaying black male knowledge when the world wants to see you as all brawn and penis and savagery. Basquiat's work is a meditation on the science of outré black elegance and offers a kind of black male brilliance, a potential paradigm for other artists' work.

The Black Interior

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