Research Publication Title

Redefining the Hero: Black Masculinity in Basquiat’s Per Capita

Major

Art

Faculty Mentor(s)

Elissa Auerbach

Abstract

Leadership roles shifted during the 1970s and 1980s in New York City when individuals began constructing personal heroes as leaders through times of need. City executives made considerable layoffs to healthcare professionals and law enforcement, leaving several New Yorkers jobless and more vulnerable in a less-policed city. As the job market and crime rate suffered, the Watergate scandal proved evidence of President Richard Nixon's poor leadership. The Haitian graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, native of New York City, criticized political powerhouses by replacing them with his personal heroes. Basquiat's paintings often included Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few. Basquiat's Per Capita, 1981, in acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas, portrays a black male boxer holding a torch in his left hand. Latin phrase ÒE PLURIBUSÓ is written above the figure's head and the phrase ÒPER CAPITAÓ is written to the right of the torch. An alphabetically ordered list of states, each assigned a dollar amount, is written to the left of the figure. Scholars including Fred Hoffman have argued that Per Capita evokes the dichotomy of wealth distribution and racial inequities in America. Other scholars, such as Michael Dragoric, posit that the work exemplifies the exploitation of African Americans in sports. In this paper I will argue that Per Capita exhibits how artists and society replaced failing political leaders with heroic icons to overcome social and political crises in a country ravaged by war, drugs, and fiscal collapse.

Start Date

10-4-2015 10:15 AM

End Date

10-4-2015 11:15 AM

Location

HSB 202

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Apr 10th, 10:15 AM Apr 10th, 11:15 AM

Redefining the Hero: Black Masculinity in Basquiat’s Per Capita

HSB 202

Leadership roles shifted during the 1970s and 1980s in New York City when individuals began constructing personal heroes as leaders through times of need. City executives made considerable layoffs to healthcare professionals and law enforcement, leaving several New Yorkers jobless and more vulnerable in a less-policed city. As the job market and crime rate suffered, the Watergate scandal proved evidence of President Richard Nixon's poor leadership. The Haitian graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, native of New York City, criticized political powerhouses by replacing them with his personal heroes. Basquiat's paintings often included Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few. Basquiat's Per Capita, 1981, in acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas, portrays a black male boxer holding a torch in his left hand. Latin phrase ÒE PLURIBUSÓ is written above the figure's head and the phrase ÒPER CAPITAÓ is written to the right of the torch. An alphabetically ordered list of states, each assigned a dollar amount, is written to the left of the figure. Scholars including Fred Hoffman have argued that Per Capita evokes the dichotomy of wealth distribution and racial inequities in America. Other scholars, such as Michael Dragoric, posit that the work exemplifies the exploitation of African Americans in sports. In this paper I will argue that Per Capita exhibits how artists and society replaced failing political leaders with heroic icons to overcome social and political crises in a country ravaged by war, drugs, and fiscal collapse.