View of the exhibition Résonance, Jean-Michel Basquiat et l’Univers Kongo at Galerie Gradiva, Paris. Photo: Diane Arques, ADAGP, Paris, 2022. Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Résonance, Jean-Michel Basquiatet l'Univers Kongo

07.09 – 19.11.2022
Galerie Gradiva


From 7 September to 19 November 2022, Galerie Gradiva will host an unprecedented aesthetic experiment in its spaces at 9 quai Voltaire, Paris: “Résonance, Jean-Michel Basquiat et l’Univers Kongo”. This exhibition is a compelling visual dialogue between works by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960- 1988) and a selection of imposing power figures from Kongo tradition, on loan from the Tervuren Royal Museum for Central Africa. “Résonance” is a deep dive into the heart and soul of these works.

Views of the exhibition Résonance, Jean-Michel Basquiat et l’Univers Kongo at Galerie Gradiva, Paris. Photo: Diane Arques, ADAGP, Paris, 2022. Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Born in 1960 in New York to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father, Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn. A self-taught artist, very early on he frequented galleries, read extensively and listened to music. He had an insatiable curiosity, observed the world with a keen eye and absorbed everything: boxing, cinema, jazz, blues, hip-hop, comics, literature and art history. As a Black citizen in Ronald Reagan’s conservative white America, he daily witnessed and suffered from the discrimination and oppression inflicted on African Americans. His Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage led him to take an interest in the traditions of the African diaspora, which would echo continually through his own work.

Portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984. Photo : Christopher Makos.

Nkisi Nkonde “maloango” (Kongo culture), Tshela region. Wood (Canarium schweinfurthi), pigments, fetish material, mirror, nails and iron blades. Height: 71 cm Collection of the RMCA, exchanged with the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (1979), acquired from E. Dartevelle (1937)

Nkisi nkondi were powerful charms or fetishes in for certain Kongo peoples from what is now Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Rare and costly to make, the nkisi nkondi were employed by a nganga (ritualist) to serve the needs of the community. They had several functions and were often used to cast spells, ward off misfortune, chase down evildoers and ndoki (witches) or help heal certain diseases. Closely linked to political power, a potent nkondi was a source of wealth and prestige for a village. Tribal chiefs could “hire out” their nkondi to villages without their own. When not in use in public ceremonies, nkondi were housed in special locations and placed under the watch of one or more guards.

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