Hundreds Honor BK Legend Jean-Michel Basquiat in Nighttime Arts Showcase at His Green-Wood Gravesite

When was the last time you attended a concert at a cemetery?

Last night, hundreds of guests took part in a unique art, poetry and music event at Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park, in honor of iconic Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who is buried at the cemetery. 

“From Canvas to Stage: A Tribute to Basquiat” was hosted by visual artist and poet Danny Simmons as part of his “Wordsmith” event series, which showcases artists and performers across mediums. Simmons is the co-creator of the long-running Def Poetry Jam series on HBO, along with his brother, music executive Russell Simmons. It was Danny’s idea to bring Wordsmith to Green-Wood in an event that would honor the legend.

“One of the things we wanted to do with this is let people know Basquiat was a Brooklyn boy,” said Simmons. “Most people associate him with Warhol and the downtown scene in lower Manhattan, but Basquiat grew up here in Brooklyn.”

Basquiat was a visual artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent from Park Slope. First gaining notoriety as a graffiti artist under the tag SAMO, he rose to international fame in the late 1970s and enjoyed acclaim throughout the 1980s. He became known for his unique, politically charged style, exploring themes of racism and class inequality in his work.

Basquiat tragically died at 27 from a heroin overdose in August of 1988. After his death, his work continued to rise in popularity — in 2017, an untitled work of his sold for $110 million.

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Artists honor Jean-Michel Basquiat at “From Canvas to Stage: A Tribute to Basquiat.” Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

The event featured musical performances from Lezlie Harrison, Shrine for the Black Madonna and Firey Strings Company with Nioka Workman and poetry readings from Toni Blackman, Ainsley Burrows, Kraal “Kayo” Charles, Derick D. Cross, Vanessa Hidary and Abiodun Oyewole.

Behind the performers, visual art from artists including Patrick Dougher, Raphael Tiberino, Ainsley Burrows, Anthony Carlos Molden and Simmons were projected onto a screen for viewing.

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Lezlie Harrison performs at “From Canvas to Stage: A Tribute to Basquiat.” Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“A lot of Basquiat’s paintings had deep political and social messages in it that still resonate today,” said Simmons. “Basquiat will be known five centuries from now.”

Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 and spans 478 acres. The U.S. landmark is the final resting place of more than 570,000 individuals. According to cemetery officials, Basquiat’s grave is one of the most visited.

“From Canvas” is part of Green-Wood’s push toward programming to keep the cemetery active, as they run low on space for new burials. 

“I don’t want this place to be a literal ghost town,” Richard J. Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery, told BK Reader. “We want people to still treat it like a cemetery but to enjoy visiting the grounds. And if we can add programming related to people buried here, we’re thrilled to do it.”

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