Heritage Depicted in Art


Untitled (History of the Black People), Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

 

According to Andrea Frohne, this Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s painting “reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization”. At the center of the painting, Basquiat depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the earth and vegetation.

On the right panel of the painting appear the words “Esclave, Slave, Esclave”. Two letters of the word “Nile” are crossed out and Frohne suggests that, “The letters that are wiped out and scribbled over perhaps reflect the acts of historians who have conveniently forgotten that Egyptians were black and blacks were enslaved.” On the left panel of the painting Basquiat has illustrated two Nubian-style masks. The Nubians historically were darker in skin color, and were considered to be slaves by the Egyptian people.

Throughout the rest of the painting, images of the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed with images of the Egyptian slave trade centuries before. The sickle in the center panel is a direct reference to the slave trade in the United States, and slave labor under the plantation system. The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave Trade, as salt was another important commodity traded at that time.

On the right of the painting the words “Memphis Thebes Tennesee [Tennessee]” are written in black on top of white paint. Thebes is a city in Ancient Egypt, which is also a Greek name. Historically, Memphis, Tennessee holds a painful past for the black race. It was one of the most racist cities in the U.S. Before racist segregation laws were implemented, Memphis was also apart a large slave-trade market. Memphis, Tennessee is also the place where activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

 

 

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