Per Capita is a screen print in colours produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1983. In this print, a large crown outlined in blue is painted over an amorphous area of red atop ‘ASBESTOS’ scrawled in dark blue, enclosed in a red square. Beneath this layer of shapes, text and colour, small, intricate sketches emerge from the background, some appearing like annotated diagrams. A fish, a unicorn, a snake and a dog appear alongside text alluding to places and icons of historical and religious significance: Mecca, Anubis, God.
Not only does the piece evoke the notion that materialism and the cult of profit is akin to a religious belief system, but also highlights an inevitable circularity and a sense of the irrepressibility of the past and its resurfacing. The linear relationship between past, present and future is constantly contested in Basquiat’s work. This notion relates strongly to his involvement in music which meshed jazz, bebop and hip-hop together to create a futuristic, fast-paced sound (as evidenced on the landmark single ‘Beat Bop’) which bridged the music of the past and that of the future.