This 2019 screenprint is a reproduction of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982-3 work Undiscovered Genius. Lifted from Basquiat’s infamous Daros Suite series of 32 drawings and paintings which addressed issues surrounding institutional racism throughout history and the history of the arts. At the centre of the composition is a black man holding a guitar, who is the ‘Undiscovered Genius’ focal figure of the work. Around his intensely coloured figure are a series of sketches and text panels that encourage the viewer to read the work as much as view it.
From his Daros Suite series, Undiscovered Genius forms part of Basquiat’s deeply political oeuvre in the 1980s. Typical of his larger body of work, this piece draws attention to the two-faced exploitation and erasure of artistry among people of colour. While Basquait made direct references to prolific black figures like Marcus Garvey in other works in the series, Undiscovered Genius draws attention to an anonymous black musician holding a guitar.
Above the unidentified musician are the words ‘GRIOT BLUESMAN’. The word ‘griot’ in West Africa alludes to a singer who records the personal histories of individuals and groups through their music, and had a great influence on the blues genre in America. Given Basquiat’s own preoccupation with music, Undiscovered Genius therefore highlights the forgotten roots of the celebrated blues genre. Next to the focal guitarist figure, text reading ‘“VERSUS” THE DEVIL ⓒ’ prominently sits below a head watching the musician. Coupled with countless references to the Mississippi Delta (the birthplace of the blues) across the composition, Basquiat therefore shows the hypocrisy of the blues being called ‘the Devil’s music’.