A report by E.C. Flamming for Paste Magazine.
Urban Decay has announced their forthcoming limited-edition collection inspired by iconic ‘80s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 12-piece collection includes eye shadow, lipstick and cosmetic bags, all decorated with unmistakable Basquiat designs. The company is marketing the collection as an homage to the late artist, but the internet has quickly raised a few valid concerns about the line itself and Urban Decay’s choice of Ruby Rose as the face of the collection.
The underground graffiti artist was a known social activist, and spoke out against many elements of American society, including our consumption habits. Though it’s fair to note that Artestar, the creative firm in charge of managing Basquiat’s estate for the past 20 years, reached out to Urban Decay first, it doesn’t change the fact that seeing Basquiat’s work used as a marketing ploy for a makeup brand feels misguided at best. This isn’t the first meeting between Basquiat’s work and the beauty world. Last year, alice + olivia launched a Basquiat-inspired fashion collection that people generally loved. Basquiat’s cool neo-expressionist paintings certainly look good as prints, but at what point does profit become exploitation of everything the artist stood for?
The main problem people have with the UD x Basquiat collection is the current face of the company, Ruby Rose. UD had already tapped Rose as their main model before the Basquiat collection came together, but keeping her as the face of the collection has caused some outrage. Representation was important to Basquiat, who often said he painted black people in his paintings because he didn’t seem them enough in art. Having Rose as the spokesperson, rather than a black woman, seems counter to Basquiat’s mission. President of Artestar David Stark, when asked about the criticisms in an interview with The Cut, said:
As far as looking at Jean-Michel as an individual, people would very often try to pigeonhole him and call him a black artist and Jean-Michel would say: “I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist.” [. . .] In terms of an agenda as a black person or a black artist, it’s hard to attribute that to him. Even though he grew up in a middle-class black family, his family was Caribbean. They didn’t have the African-American experience.
Clearly, a lot of people felt differently.
Media outlets are also split as to what to think of the collaboration. Some, like Nylon, call the collection a “literal masterpiece,” and praise the decision to use Rose as a model. The Cut simply asks if the collection is “offensive or brilliant,” and BET writes that UD “missed the perfect opportunity.” It seems like anyone who actually stops to think about the collaboration for long enough to get past the stunning prints has the same feeling: Something is wrong here.
The UD x Basquiat collection will be released April 20 in extremely limited quantities. You can check out the full lineup here. To learn more about Basquiat and his legacy, we recommend this 1988 N.Y. Times article, and to learn more about the exploitation of black culture, we would like to direct you here or here.