New York in the 1980s was the epicenter of a new awareness of multiculturalism, and Basquiat, who was himself of many cultures, thrived in that scene. With a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father, the African Diaspora (the dispersal of African peoples and cultures around the world) was something he lived daily. In 1984, this cultural heritage began to emerge explicitly in Basquiat's work, with a group of paintings exploring the concept of the griot.
In many West African cultures, the griot (pronounced "GREE-oh") is a revered figure who perpetuates a community's history and traditions through storytelling and song. Basquiat's griots feature grimacing expressions, elliptical eyes, and smooth heads. But Basquiat paints the griot in various guises. Sometimes the figure takes on a Latino identity, and its name is then given a Spanish spelling (grillo). Elsewhere in Basquiat's art, it merges into a talismanic being that is associated with Haiti and New Orleans. These griot-related figures, derived from different aspects of Basquiat's expansive heritage, become a single, protean symbol of diversity.
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