First Saturdays are when a large majority of Brooklyn locals flock to the Brooklyn Museum for a night of entertainment and culture. Black masculinity and the socialization of black men in America were themes in some of the popular exhibits of the night. I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic so I decided to go.
I discovered Basquiat’s Notebooks before heading to Kehinde Wiley. I am so happy this happened. The exhibit just opened the day before and it was a very high profile one. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse into the mind of Basquiat. As you walk in you are graced with a video of Basquiat working in his element of street art and graffiti. I became entranced as I watched this video of a young artist spray painting words that obviously had a deeper meaning behind it- THE WHOLE LIVERY LINE BOW LIKE THIS WITH THE BIG MONEY… He had on a long trench coat and wild natural hair. He looked modern, like someone I would meet in the Lower East Side today.
I walked into the exhibit and noticed that, as the name details, this exhibit would be a display of his notebooks throughout the years. I rubbed my head trying to figure out the depth behind his words. Was it to be analyzed or were his notes just like any other person jotting down things he viewed in the world. How was his notebook’s art? His words were simple; some were poetic. He obviously appreciated his heritage and wanted blacks to be the focal point of his art–the heroes. He also wanted us to pay attention to the words he crossed out. According to him, “I cross out words, so you will see them more. The fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.”
Basquiat was just too smart and complicated for me to understand. I spent two hours with him, inspired, empowered but completely bewildered by his genius. I resorted to Google, Wikipedia, and watched a documentary that was playing in the exhibit all in an attempt to understand him and although I am well enlightened by his story–I know what his childhood was like; I know that his homelessness as a teenager single-handedly changed his perspective on life; I know that he empathized with the homeless and less fortunate; I know that he reached great heights before his untimely death at just 27-years old but I don’t know what greater meaning was behind his notebooks? I left the exhibit with a headache.
Later, I found myself on the fifth floor in the midst of artwork that looked like it should have been in the Louvre, yet the subjects of the painting were urban black men. This was profound. There was a re-creation of black men into famous European works of art to acknowledge the blatant disregard and bigotry towards black and brown men in art and in the grand scheme of the world. This exhibit couldn’t have come at a better time. Our black men need to be empowered. They need to know that they are worthy. They too can be subjects of famous westernized artwork; they should not be erased from history.
Kehinde did not leave the women out. I preceded to the last room of the exhibit hall and was met by a grand onyx-colored sculpture of black women, almost representative of medusa with their natural braided hair intertwined and connecting them. These women had Afrocentric features, voluptuous lips, broad noses, and were as striking as can be…the center of attention. Surrounding them were portraits of other women, some dressed elegantly, some dressed casually, some from the West Indies, some from the U.S, some rich and some poor. The backgrounds of these pieces were floral (as with the men in his art). They represented strength, as they held their head up high, like beautiful black queens. It seemed like they were reclaiming their beauty and their roles in society as powerhouses.
Some Takeaways: Basquiat is thought-provoking. His work doesn’t allow you to view it in a surface way but to think deeper. When he crosses out a word, he doesn’t want you to disregard it, he wants you to pay more attention to it. He’s smart. Some of his artwork looks like a blackboard that Einstein might’ve concocted but he tells a story. He exemplifies awareness. Not merely accepting what the world gives you but exploring deeper.
As for Kehinde, he’s empowering a race. Adding us to the historical context of history that we were erased from. Making black and brown people relevant, powerful and beautiful. Rebelling against the social norms and racial caste systems. We are kings and queens. Overall, I had a great day at the museum. These exhibits will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum so if you are ever in the area check them out and draw your own conclusions:
Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks April 3rd –August 23, 2015
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic Feb 20th –May 24th 2015