Queer artist Kim Katrin Milan on Jean-Michel Basquiat


Queer artist Kim Katrin Milan on Jean-Michel Basquiat Transcript

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"Hi, this is Frank Prendergrast and I am here today with Kim Katrin Milan. Kim...thank you to being with us."

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Kim: " Thank you for having me."

Frank: "Now you're here in Toronto, interestingly enough looking at the life and the art, of a New York-based artist; Basquiat. So you obviously have a very personal connection.. Um, what is that connection? What draws you to his character and to his work?"

Kim: "Um, for me I think, I was someone who also, you know lived on the street. I was someone who really came up very much on my own. I wasn't someone who was educated in Fine Art institutions to become an artist. You know he was someone who really created his own legacy...created the space for him to come up as an artist. Um, and was talking about these ideas of race and class and gender in his work. Um, and I really identify with that. I identify with the ways in which he creates a space to bring street-based work into institutions. 

I like to think that the work that I do is about bringing the hood into the institutions that also get to invite me there."

Frank: " It's interesting because, uh, a lot of his work focused on heros and he became one."

Kim: "Uh-huh. I think, its interesting because one of the ways in which I think a lot of young black people came out of their hoods is because they became heroes. They became commodical in some capacity. Whether it is through art or music or sports, but that's some of the only avenues that people can have to kind of change their situations in life and I think that he talked a lot about that. What does that mean to make himself a king; to believe that he believes to be famous when the rest of the world was telling him that his art deserved to be on the street or that it didn't make sense or that it actually didn't have that kind of value. And I think that as a black artist you really have to have a really powerful sense of self to propel you to go forth and do that work. Recognizing that there are a lot of barriers out there.

Frank: "Um, he's also embraced by another community that faces barriers. Uh, the queer community. Do you think his being claimed by the queer community makes sense?"

Kim: "I think definitely. I think that the intersections between queer people and trans people and social justice work and art has been so pronounced and prevalent you know? In the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement right now; the creator of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is a black gay man, Darnell Moore, you know? And queer black women who have been primarily involved in the organizing that's been led in Ferguson. So I think that, the claiming of queerness in social justice; I think those are really just wrapped into each other already."

Frank: "What about hims personally coz he never came out as bisexual... Did he ever come out as bisexual?"

Kim: "I don't know that he very explicitly said that, but I think that there are lots of people who um, reflected his relationships and said that they were like that. And I think he had a variety of different kinds of relationships. And I think that that's one of the things that's difficult to...um, that is difficult and also beautiful about the word "queer", because queer is not just about your sexual orientation. Its also about culture. And that's why I think that it's not about whether we can verify if he's been with enough guys to call him bisexual. Or if he's been with...you know its just like let's not get caught up in those kinds of things. But culturally I think so much of what he's creating is very, very queer. A lot of the conversations he's having where things were happening within queer communities. So it definitely stands to reason he was part and parcel of that community."

Frank: "Can someone be queer by association? I mean you look at Andy Warhol and Keith Herring... Because he...was in that group? Does that make someone queer or not queer?"

Kim: "I dunno that it makes someone...I don't, I don't think that you can make someone anything that they don't identify as. But I do think that people can participate in queer community, in queer culture, without necessarily having to identify that; especially considering the context that people weren't necessarily able to come out in the same way."

Frank: "This may be a hard question and maybe you can't answer it, but do you think that he would call himself a queer person now, if...?"

Kim: "I don't know that we could ever know that. I feel like we can never...its like a different language and a different cultural context. So he might now ever use that word at all. And I think that's one of the things that we end up doing um...in hindsight. Right? Like, the hero-making that happened to him, happened after him. You know? He talked about, when he made his art, he was like, "I was actually kind of a horrible person. I would...I did a lot of drugs and I was bad to a lot of people" you know? But we also recognized that the contributions he made have been invaluable and we have found a way of like elevating that to that status. 

So I think that there is a kind of culture-making that happens after our artist passes, where we fill in all these other gaps, you know? This happened with Langston Hughes, who was also queer and also in a lot of ways and he was gay but he wasn't having an open dialogue and discourse about that and that's something that we culturally and community-wise have filled in a little bit of these gaps afterwards. Part of it I'm sure is imagination. You know I know people, we all fit ourselves into other people's realities. And that happens, that absolutely happens, but I do also think that um, Langston Hughes, he wrote a lot of...in his poems it was a lot of like messages that were only really able to be recognized by other people who were queer. I think similarly in Basquiat's work there is a certain kind of resonance that feels very queer and I think that whether or not we can palpably touch it or name it I think that the resonation within our community is valid and real."

Frank: "Well, thank you so much for being here."

Kim: "Thank you so much for having me. It was so awesome. It's a pleasure. Thank you."

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