Vol. 23 No. 2 (2017)


The Art of Erasure: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Olympias

Published June 26, 2020
Réka M. Cristian
University of Szeged
Jean-Michel Basquiat graffiti
How to Cite
Selected stlye: APA
Cristian, R. M. “The Art of Erasure: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Olympias”. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, June 2020, https://ojs.lib.unideb.hu/hjeas/article/view/7317.

This essay discusses the visual shift of race and gender representation in a selection of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings. The Brooklyn graffiti artist, who was known for elevating the street energy of vernacular inscriptions into high art, reinterpreted Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) in Three-Quarters of Olympia Minus the Servant (1982) by erasing racial difference and challenging gender stereotypes in a work devoid of gender markers. In Untitled (Maid from Olympia) (1982), another version of the modernist painting, Basquiat places the figure of the black servant, formerly a colonized subject, in the center of the work; as a result, the servant “talks back” in a visual narrative functioning as a critique of colonization. Both paintings thus recast and reinterpret Manet’s Olympia and her world in a contemporary signification of race and gender by emphasis, or lack thereof, of such markers. (RMC)