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Basquiat after Dial: Bridging the Gap between Black Labor and Critique

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Abstract:

“Basquiat after Dial” centers on the work of African American artist Thornton Dial (b. 1928) and African American/Caribbean artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Basquiat is famous for his postmodern and neoexpressionist drawings and paintings. In contrast, Dial, a former carpenter, bricklayer, welder, and steelworker, is known for mixed-media creations which have at times been described as “folk,” “spiritual,” and postmodern.

In 2006, the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX) exhibited the works of both Dial and Basquiat together. With Dial’s less-well known work in one building and Basquiat’s another, patrons moved from the heavy, cloying fumes of Dial’s art of metals, plastics, and found objects such as shoes, goat carcasses, and a Ken doll to Basquiat’s work. With the latter, it was not fumes but the unrelenting layering of images and words that assaulted visitors.

The juxtaposition of the works of these artists by the MFAH made stark the contrast between Basquiat’s discursive style and Dial’s heavy materialism: the former often advancing a critique of empire and the latter of black labor from slavery and 19th century reconstruction through the late 20th century. The point of departure for “Basquiat after Dial” is the simultaneous exhibition of these works by the MFAH. Its preliminary thesis is twofold: 1) that read against Dial, Basquiat’s critique of European and U.S. spatial and economic imperialism in pieces such as “50₵ Piece” reveals the way in which empire flattens out the labor involved in its creation and normalizes the divisions of class that are the precise vehicle for its criticism 2) Dial’s critique of southern black labor and alienation in pieces such as “Lost Farm (Billy Goat Hill)” and of American consumerism in “American $” provide a criticism of culture and empire that does not reproduce the division of labor or make labor abstract.

The affective differences between Basquiat and Dial bridged by the MFAH through either race or taste reveal the way in which the active re-production of the black diaspora offers new points of departure for critiques of coloniality, empire, and capitalism. They also offer a place to rethink our own work as scholars and the way in which we both reject and reproduce the divisions of labor and class that shape our work.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509660_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Jackson, Shona. "Basquiat after Dial: Bridging the Gap between Black Labor and Critique" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509660_index.html>

APA Citation:

Jackson, S. N. "Basquiat after Dial: Bridging the Gap between Black Labor and Critique" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509660_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: “Basquiat after Dial” centers on the work of African American artist Thornton Dial (b. 1928) and African American/Caribbean artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Basquiat is famous for his postmodern and neoexpressionist drawings and paintings. In contrast, Dial, a former carpenter, bricklayer, welder, and steelworker, is known for mixed-media creations which have at times been described as “folk,” “spiritual,” and postmodern.

In 2006, the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX) exhibited the works of both Dial and Basquiat together. With Dial’s less-well known work in one building and Basquiat’s another, patrons moved from the heavy, cloying fumes of Dial’s art of metals, plastics, and found objects such as shoes, goat carcasses, and a Ken doll to Basquiat’s work. With the latter, it was not fumes but the unrelenting layering of images and words that assaulted visitors.

The juxtaposition of the works of these artists by the MFAH made stark the contrast between Basquiat’s discursive style and Dial’s heavy materialism: the former often advancing a critique of empire and the latter of black labor from slavery and 19th century reconstruction through the late 20th century. The point of departure for “Basquiat after Dial” is the simultaneous exhibition of these works by the MFAH. Its preliminary thesis is twofold: 1) that read against Dial, Basquiat’s critique of European and U.S. spatial and economic imperialism in pieces such as “50₵ Piece” reveals the way in which empire flattens out the labor involved in its creation and normalizes the divisions of class that are the precise vehicle for its criticism 2) Dial’s critique of southern black labor and alienation in pieces such as “Lost Farm (Billy Goat Hill)” and of American consumerism in “American $” provide a criticism of culture and empire that does not reproduce the division of labor or make labor abstract.

The affective differences between Basquiat and Dial bridged by the MFAH through either race or taste reveal the way in which the active re-production of the black diaspora offers new points of departure for critiques of coloniality, empire, and capitalism. They also offer a place to rethink our own work as scholars and the way in which we both reject and reproduce the divisions of labor and class that shape our work.


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Civil Rights or Labor Rights? Detroit’s Predominantly-Black Unions and Labor Militancy in the Early 1930s

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Black Workers and Labor Politics: A Case Study on Black Chicago 1930-1950


 
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