On September 15 1983, a 25-year-old graffiti artist named Michael Stewart was beaten into a coma by New York police after tagging a wall at First Avenue subway station. He died 13 days later, his cause of death listed as cardiac arrest. In a story that is still all too depressingly familiar 33 years later -- the police claimed Stewart had become violent, struggled with officers, and ran into the street. Stewart was beaten unconscious before dying of his injuries. All eleven officers involved in the incident were later acquitted by an all-white jury.
Stewart's treatment while in police custody and the ensuing trials sparked debate concerning police brutality and the responsibilities of arresting officials in handling suspects. Another young, black artist affected by the event was Jean-Michel Basquiat, who went to his good friend Keith Haring's studio in the East Village and painted Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) on the wall. Haring kept it above his bed until his death in 1990.
Hoping to increase awareness of the painting itself and the continued political importance of Basquiat's work, New York based writer and activist Chaédria LaBouvier has created a multimedia project exploring Defacement, Basquiat and police brutality. The debut of the project and scholarship was at Williams College, Massachusetts, where a talk was held. The painting is the subject of programming -- which she also curated -- while it's on view at the Williams College Museum of Art.
This work is personal for LaBouvier; her own brother, Clinton Allen was killed by Dallas police whilst unarmed in March 2013, and after his case was no-billed by the Grand Jury, she and her mother co-founded Mothers Against Police Brutality to support other families who have lost children to police brutality. I spoke to her about the importance of the project, Basquiat's legacy and how his work ties into the conversations we're having about police and black and brown bodies more than three decades after Michael Stewart's death.
Starting off the Monday flow with a little art & poetry by Jean Michel Basquiat yo!