Thursday, October 01, 2015
"I'll Be Your Mirror"
Approximation of White Beauty/Black Ego
I sat with Suzanne Mallouk, late lover of artist Jean Michel Basquiat at an opening party for Irish author Emer Martin's first published novel, Breakfast in Babylon. I had met Suzanne at Hunter College where Emer Martin and I were classmates in a Novel Writing class.
It was an early evening in Spring. Suzanne was sitting outside the college in a circular seating area for students. She wore a short sleeve shirt with grey stripes folded at the edges, blue denim and sneakers. The atmosphere surrounding the school had acquired darkness with light emanating from glass windows of the school building as a source of light.
Suzanne's countenance, muted by the dark, emerged from shadows. There was a gentle breeze in the air. I carefully approached and sat next to her. She let out a heavy sigh. I immediately saw it as a chance to say something. I told her everything will be alright. She looked at me and smiled.
From then on we fell into conversation. She took required courses in the science department. I kept the flow of our dialogue, told her about my experience at Hunter. I certainly didn't know who she was or had any knowledge of her role in history.
Out of the blue she asked me if I had heard of Jean Michel Basquiat. I said yes. She immediately responded, saying she had been JMB's lover. I studied her carefully, made an imprint of her face on my conscience. I proceeded further by asking about their relationship.
She didn't go into any particular details. She loved him and was honored to have met him. It wasn't a confession of who they were to each other, rather a proclamation of one's love for someone, a tragic figure at a time when the world was spinning out of control.
I had been invited to take part in a reading organized by the Writing Department. I told Suzanne about the Novel Writing class, how happy I was taking the course. She accompanied me to a building half a block away where students and professors had gathered.
There wasn't much of a wait as Suzanne and I sat next to each other feeling the energy. Readers were called and one after the other they went up on stage and read from a poem or story. When I heard my name I walked up, stood before the crowd and introduced myself. I read from my novel in progress, a scene at a Halloween party. The revelry among the characters brought joy to my heart.
This was how I met Suzanne Mallouk, a night which included a subway ride down to the East Village, a stop at the door to her famous apartment building on first and first and ended up at Baby Jakes diner for drinks of Whiskey Sour.
I sat with Suzanne at Emer Martin's opening relishing in her company, a path from her apartment, people stopping us, saying hello to her, walking with her arm overlapping mine, her head on my shoulder.
In the glow of the room she grew jealous each time a girl, classmates of mine, came by and said hello. She told me how Basquiat called her Venus, reminded me of that famous JMB painting called Venus versus Madonna, of the two girls fighting after Madonna had made a pass at Jean Michel.
Venus! Like Nico of the Velvet Underground. Venus, the fairest beauty. Basquiat saw in Suzanne that exotic face, Picasso eyes and ruby red lips. She was also known as Ruby, It Art Girl.
What does the black male see in white beauty?
It's an acute curse, philosophical aestheticizing of beauty, post colonial exacerbation, academic enlightenment, middle to upper class entitlement, porno-orgiastic-sex drive, status symbol.
I was born Ghanaian in the city of Accra, raised within the culture of immediate and extended family. Young maids from the villages took care of me and enlightened in me the notion of libido. These heated exchanges were protracted among the neighborhood girls and classmates.
All this came to pass when along with my mother and brothers we moved to New York. I soon discovered the models in my mother's Italian catalogues, centerfolds in my father's adult magazines, porn actresses on cable television.
At the local school my aura was sapped by blue eyed, blonde girls. The devastating process weakened me. I was faced with culture shock, a stranger among the African American community, admired by Puerto Ricans, regarded as a fetish symbol to whites.
My plight grew to high-school where I was held in high esteem, propelled into a breakdown, found myself through School of Visual Art and community colleges, ended up at Hunter College, where I earned a degree in Creative Writing, matured within a literary and rock and roll conscience, met my first art model, a white girl from Brooklyn who affected me as European, Venus, much like the European lovers and friends I had acquired.
The hot decade of the 90's inspired the muse, girls I brought into my art for music, art and theater to one day cast for a play, a room completely filled with black actors, their handsomeness and beauty. To direct a black girl, lead actress, the majesty in her thick Nubian hair, caramel skin, her face, ethnic, lips, not far off from some of the other girls, dark skinned, ebony, long limbs, curvaceous hips.
Circumstance found me in the art gallery world. A time when the virtual conscience was made present in chat rooms and social media, I discovered a virtual muse, a British woman who brought me philosophy and dialogue on art and gender politics.
That curse! Lucid white, antagonistic, theoretic! For ten years to this date positioned to think, prognosticate, philosophize on beauty, gender and identity.
These ten years endured an evolution from the stress of housing, juggling art and madness, seduction and celibacy, escaping death.
To then discover the urban beauty, street girl, drug addict, homeless, prostitute, derelict. To feel love from a stranger, potential criminal. To be wanted for being different.
Intellect and beauty promoted as white, a damage to the conscience of a black artist.
Unless he does a necessary intervention he finds himself lost, self-predicament, self-query, a walking question mark.