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Despite the Civil Rights Act having been passed in 1964, unlawful police brutality against the black community in America was still rife even 20 years later. Basquiat was veritably distressed by this event, leading him to paint ‘Defacement’ (The Death of Michael Stewart). Having been a close friend of Michael Stewart’s, Basquiat was influenced to take a darker turn in his art, producing pieces that reflected his current thoughts on the constant events of this brutality. The painting had been owned privately for most of its existence but is now open for public viewing at the WCMA. Since the piece was painted to show the painter’s thoughts on the evident police brutality, the reason as to why it has been made open for viewing could be interpreted as having Basquiat’s discourse accessible for all to see, understand, and perhaps to become influenced to stand against it with him.
Besides the public, other artists were moved by Basquiat’s responsive art. Originally painted in Keith Haring’s studio in the East Village, ‘Defacement’ held such an enormous amount of importance to Haring, that he kept it hung above his bed until his death in 1990. For Basquiat’s artwork to be recognised by and to be held to such high critique showed his major capacity to have such an effect on other significant artists as well as the public is something to be acknowledged.
Basquiat’s influence on racial oppression carries on even today in 2018 where movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ still fight on to end the likes of police brutality. Despite being more than thirty years on from ‘Defacement’ being first painted, racism still seems to be a constant issue in society and this is what makes Basquiat’s work as notable as it was before in today’s light of recent social events.
Chaédria LaBouvier is one individual who was so affected by violence against the black community that she and her mother founded the organisation ‘Mothers Against Police Brutality’ which financially and emotionally aids parents that have lost their children to unjustifiable brutality. In a few interviews with I-D and Dazed magazine, LaBouvier shares that her personal discovery of Basquiat and his painting ‘Defacement’ really drove her to study into the history of the racist crimes and influenced her to use these art forms to push the deeper meaning onto the public, garnering more attention for her cause.
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