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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Hollywood Africans

1983

Artist

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Title

Hollywood Africans

Date

1983

Medium

Acrylic and oil stick on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 84 1/16 × 84 in. (213.5 × 213.4 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Douglas S. Cramer

Accession number

84.23

Object Label

Hollywood Africans is one of a series of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings that feature images and texts relating to stereotypes of African Americans in the entertainment industry. It was painted while Basquiat was on an extended visit to Los Angeles, California, in 1983. Several of the work’s notations are autobiographical: the trio of figures on the right depicts the artist with the rap musician Rammellzee and the painter Toxic, who had traveled with him from New York, and he includes the digits of his birth date: 12, 22, and 60. Other notations are historical: phrases such as “Sugar Cane,” “Tobacco,” “Gangsterism,” and “What is Bwana?” allude to the limited roles available to black actors in old Hollywood movies. The notion of exclusion or excision is reiterated in the way that Basquiat often crossed out words or phrases in his works. The technique, he explained, was actually meant to direct attention to them: “I cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.”

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