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Catalog Data

Created by:
Jean-Michel Basquiat, American, 1960 - 1988  Search this
watercolor, gouache and ink on paper
H x W (artwork): 3 3/8 × 5 1/4 in. (8.6 × 13.3 cm)
H x W x D (framed): 13 7/8 × 16 1/8 × 1 5/8 in. (35.2 × 41 × 4.1 cm)
Place made:
New York City, New York, United States, North and Central America
Many artists, from Faith Ringgold to David Hammons, have incorporated the American flag as a symbol or a formal challenge, as patriotism or protest. Jean-Michel Basquiat interpretated this iconic American flag early in his career when he experimented with unconventional materials and ideas. Using composition notebook paper as his canvas, Basquiat typed rows and clusters of the letter X overlaid with red stripes. In the blue square, typically filled with stars representing all 50 states, he has inserted a larger white X.
In Basquiat’s flag, the letter “X” may refer to the X that many formerly enslaved people used to sign their mark, or the X that Black Muslims employed to reject their so-called slave names. X marks the spot, but it also can refer to the erasure of Black lives, or the stars and bars of the Confederate flag. Above all, the artist invokes the freedom of expression found in the paradox of liberty.
This is a small, painted rendition of the American flag on a crumpled piece of paper, with the flag reaching to all four edges of the paper. Instead of a blue block with stars in the upper left quadrant, there is a blue block with one single white “X” painted inside of it. Both the blue paint and the white “X” appear to have been done with gouache paint. The white “X” is partially faded.
There are nine, red, horizontal stripes in watercolor on this flag. The lowest ninth red stripe is fragmented and not as densely painted as the others.
The artist has also used a typewriter to type upper case black “X” s across the striped portion of the piece. There are 10 horizontal rows of “X” s. The “X” s in the bottom row of the piece are scattered.
Framed with an inset mat, the flag does not lie flat, but as it would naturally due to the crumpled and textured paper.
African American  Search this
Art  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, From the Alexis Adler Archive
Object number:
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National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
Visual Arts
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture