page from Widow Basquiat

Widow Basquiat

Suzanne’s words: 

We immediately had this feeling of kindred spirits. We were the same age, I left home at 15, so did he. We were both first generation from immigrant families – my father was Palestinian, his father was Haitian. Both of us didn’t fit into any racial or ethnic group. Both of us suffered racism. We both had old-world fathers who used corporal punishment. My mother is English, from Bolton. His stepmother was English. It was very interesting, the common histories we had. Authoritarian fathers that saw European women as a prize. And I think it really shaped Jean-Michel’s experience. He was intelligent enough to resent that European women were somehow valued more, he saw the racism in that, yet most of his girlfriends were white. He was conflicted about it; he discussed it with me.

I hated that I had a job and he didn’t. I was an artist, too – how dare he make me work as a waitress and live off me! Often I would come home and he would take money out of my purse to buy drugs. We would have terrible fights. He would say, “I promise I’ll look after you when I’m famous, please just let me do my art, I’m going to be famous very soon.” But I didn’t keep anything, so I didn’t get anything. He didn’t like me keeping things, he would almost be jealous of his own artwork. He would say, “Why do you want to keep something of mine when you have me?” Eventually, he gave me the message that really I could no longer be an artist. He was the only artist in the family and I had to look after him. It was kind of misogynist.

It wasn’t that he only saw Andy [Warhol] as a father figure, he also really had a flirtation with him. Often when I was with the two of them together, it didn’t feel like I was there with Jean; it felt like I was there with two homosexual lovers. He once joked with me that he had had sex with Andy, but I don’t know if it was a joke. Jean had a history of being bisexual, but Warhol was asexual, so I don’t know. People misunderstand the relationship if they just think Andy was helping Jean. Jean was already he was highly established, he was already famous or Andy would not have been interested in him. I think Andy needed new life breathed into his career; I think the two of them needed each other.

Two weeks before his death, I was living with a new boyfriend in my little East Village hovel. Jean rang the buzzer in the middle of the night and we both got up, and said “Who is it?” “Jean-Michel, Jean-Michel, is Suzanne there?” I buzzed him in but he never came up. I ran down the stairs to look for him, but he’d gone, and two weeks later he was dead. My heart was broken when I ran down the stairs and he was gone. Because I never stopped loving him. I still feel love for him and he’s been dead for over 30 years.

You’re going to think I’m mad, but I have dreams, and in the dreams Jean-Michel is ageing. It’s as though he’s living in a parallel universe. And often he’s annoyed that I’m there, he’s like, “Don’t tell anyone I’m here Suzanne. Don’t tell anyone I faked my death, and especially don’t tell the New York Times!” He’s just living a really simple life, in the swamplands of Florida and he sells crocodile eggs. He has this hippy wife and about eight little dreadlocked children. I like it.

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