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Irony of negro policeman

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Irony of Negro Policeman is a painting created by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1981. It depicts a black figure as police officer, however, Basquiat found the idea of the "Negro Policeman" specifically ironic.

By 1981, Jean-Michel Basquiat made the transition from street artist to a gallery artist.[1] Basquiat joined the Anina Nosei Gallery in New York, and Nosei provided him with studio space in the basement of her gallery where he created some of his most important artworks such as Irony of a Negro Policeman. The painting sold for $12.6 million at a Phillips Contemporary Art auction in 2012.[2]

The figure in the artwork—a black man dressed in a midnight blue police uniform—represents the totalitarian black mass.[3] The hat that frames the head of the policeman resembles a cage, and represents what Basquiat believes are the constrained independent perceptions of African-Americans at the time, and how constrained the policeman's own perceptions were within white society. Basquiat drew upon his Haitian heritage by painting a hat that resembles the top hat associated with Baron Samedi of the Guédé family of loa, who embody the powers of death in Haitian Vodou.[1]

Race was one of the most important themes in Basquiat's oeuvre. He consistently placed the black figure at the center his artwork because as he stated: "Black people are never really portrayed realistically in...I mean, not even portrayed in modern art enough."[4] However, by titling the artwork "IRONY OF NEGRO PLCEMN" next to the figure, Basquiat is suggesting irony in that the oppressed is wearing the uniform of the oppressor. Author Jana Evans Braziel noted: The elided vowels in the word "policeman" (painted onto the wood panel as "PLCEMN") suggest that the "Negro Policeman" is merely a placement: a position or cog within the machine; as a placement, there can also be a replacement: to the system, he is expendable.[1]

Irony of a Negro Policeman was painted the same year Basquiat created La Hara (1981), a menacing depiction of a white policeman. However the contrast of intimidation are opposites. The black officer in Irony of a Negro Policeman is outlined in white with a mask-like face, symbolizing hypocrisy, whereas La Hara's cryptic message is conveyed with brutal-looking skeleton of a white officer.[5]

Irony of a Negro Policeman has been exhibited at major art institutions worldwide, which include:

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