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Too Young For What? Chris Webb on Barbican’s Free Festival Celebrating Jean-Michel Basquiat

Chris Webb is Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning’s Visual and Cross Arts Curator. Creative Learning’s programmes support people of all ages and backgrounds to discover their creative voice and access world-class arts for free. Chris Webb develops learning activity in connection to Barbican’s exhibitions, including work with young people on programmes such as Barbican’s Young Visual Arts Group.

Since I started in my role just over a year ago, I’ve heard a lot of buzz and excitement over the Barbican’s plans for its major exhibition Basquiat: Boom For Real but the most palpable excitement I’ve witnessed has come from the young poets, artists, musicians and programmers that we work with in Creative Learning.

Basquiat: Boom for Real is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960­-1988). One of the most significant painters of the 20th century, Basquiat came of age in the late 1970s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York. By 1982, he had gained international recognition and was the youngest ever artist to participate in Documenta 7 in Kassel. His vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text, offers insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training.

It should come as no surprise that Basquiat’s canon of work inspires today’s young creatives: working collaboratively, mixing art forms and consuming information on encyclopaedic levels all come naturally to a generation of creatives who have grown up in the digital age. At Too Young For What? We will be showcasing a range of new work with and by young people from across east London and beyond and inviting visitors to go deeper into the Basquiat wikihole.

At the centre of our free festival is the SAMO©, but different stage which will make connections between Basquiat’s legacy, myth, text and music. We want to explore what Basquiat and his practice means to young and emerging artists through a range of art forms including music, performance, street art and poetry. Co-curated with Poet in the City this stage invites artists from a range of disciplines to share, perform and create new work in the Barbican foyers. The programme includes beatbox champion Bellatrix, street artist Karim Samuels, textile designer Chiizii and literary activist Dorothea Smartt. The stage will also feature sharing of new works by glitch artist Antonio Roberts, performer Paula Varjack and poet Jacob Sam-La Rose.

It’s clear that Basquiat and the New York downtown scene of the late 70s and early 80s continue to be extremely relevant to the arts scene today where creatives are often required to be multi-disciplinary, acting as curator, agent, marketer and social media guru all at once. We can’t all do everything, so it’s increasingly important for young people to share their creative skills. It’s easy to relate to the collaborative scene where Basquiat met Warhol, Haring, Madonna and Blondie. Talk about ultimate #squadgoals.

Inspired directly by this downtown scene, polaroid artist and author Rhiannon Adam will be hosting Breaking the Frame, a drop-in workshop that invites participants to capture images, deconstruct them and contribute to a growing installation, while Barbican’s Young Programmers have programmed a short film lounge that links the New York scene with the scene they are a part of today. The day will also include a free screening of the film Downtown 81 with an introduction by Tim Lawrence, author of Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-83.

Too Young For What? will take a contemporary view of Basquiat’s work. In our Make a Scene room you can take part in deeper conversations and hands-on workshops that reflect today’s creative scene, contribute to a growing zine project or jump into Slashstroke Magazine’s Behind the Scene Pop Up Collage photo studio. In the lead up to Too Young For What? a group of young artists, poets, musicians and photographers from Barbican Young Creatives programmes will work on a two-day art hack-a-thon to create new works which will be shared on the SAMO© stage, followed by a reflection on the day in the form of new poems by Keisha Thompson and Belinda Zhawi.

Today’s young artists have grown up in a world where 'open source' sharing is key and everything is up for grabs. Basquiat explored this appropriation of ideas before the world went digital, including Xeroxing his own works and pasting them onto new canvasses. Linking past and present, illustrator Maria Middtun and curator of No Copyright Infringement Intended Antonio Roberts will collaborate together to create a hi-and-lo-tech installation that combines digital glitch art and with hand drawn illustration and collage that, self-appropriates and continually evolves throughout the day.

Not forgetting the exhibition itself, Young Barbican members can pre-book entry to Basquiat: Boom For Real at a reduced rate of £5 (normally £16). Young Barbican is a free membership scheme that gives 14-25 year-olds discounted access to unmissable art and entertainment as well as exclusive events and creative opportunities. Finally, visitors can make a free visit to the Curve to see John Akomfrah’s Purple, an immersive six-channel video installation addressing climate-change.

Basquiat’s work crossed so many disciplines and broke boundaries in a way that many people relate to. As writer, film-maker, performance maker and Barbican Junior Poet’s tutor Paula Varjack says: “I am interested and inspired by him as someone who entered the fine art world in a different way than the traditional art school, to degree show, to gallery representation way, particularly as a person of colour. The idea I have of how he lived, the people he mixed with, and the presence of the city and text in his work is also exciting to me.”

Paula will be sharing a new performance that explores these ideas and responds to a collection of Polaroid photographs taken by Maripol, which are a part of the exhibition. We invite you to join us at the Barbican on Saturday 7 October, to explore the work of an artist who set his own standards and, through an exploration of his work, contribute to a dialogue about what it means to be creative today. Whether you are an emerging artist or are seeking out the ultimate fangirl/fanboy experience – if you are inspired by Basquiat or wish to explore his work for the first time, then this is the event for you.

 

Too Young For What

Barbican

7th October