Sorry Vanessa Beecroft, Working with Kanye Doesn't Make You Black
We’ve almost all had the uncomfortable experience of being in the company of someone who uses the “n-word” or appropriates black culture because they have a “black friend.” As a white person of privilege, I’ve seen it and was surely guilty of it more than once as a kid listening to the newest rap CDs my grandparents tried to stop me from buying at Walmart. Usually it’s a small slip-up or tone deaf comment followed by a quick apology, but sometimes it’s a giant headache of a comment that’s the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae of racially insensitive remarks that have piled up over the years. Enter, Vanessa Beecroft.
The Italian artist has become inextricably linked to Kanye West since they met in 2008 during his 808s & Heartbreak album. Since then, she’s worked on everything from his short film Runaway and the Yeezy fashion shows to his sets on world tours and even his and Kim Kardashian‘s wedding. A month after her biggest performance art piece yet, the Yeezy Season 3 MSG show/listening party/video game debut, the artist has spoken out in a rare interview with W Magazine about her collaboration with Kanye. It’s now clear why she doesn’t do interviews very often.
“I am protected by Kanye’s talent. I become black. I am no longer Vanessa Beecroft, and I am free to do whatever I want because Kanye allows it,” she wrote in her own words. “There is no discrimination while working with Kanye. The only discrimination is [against] the demagogic, the old, the politically correct, even in the art form.”
Okay, so maybe it’s misinterpreted. An artist who’s been creating work since 1993 can’t be so tone deaf as to think working with Kanye for eight years has allowed her to “become black,” right? It turns out this isn’t Beecroft’s first time thinking she’s Ebony and Ivory—she’s been flirting with race and failing for a long time.
It’s probably not a good sign when a documentary exists about her attempting to adopt Sudanese babies for a photoshoot that earned her the title of “hypocritically self-aware, colossally colonial pomo narcissist.” It’s an even bigger problem when she refers to children at a Sudanese orphanage as “these poor creatures” and repeatedly informs the audience that she “loves this culture”—as she does in her 2008 documentary, The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins. She’s the art world equivalent of rapper Iggy Azealia’s quest to become black. But instead of crashing and burning, Beecroft has thrived under the protective cocoon of blackness that working with Kanye has granted her.
She can work with Kanye as much as she wants and create grand sweeping stages based off images of Rwandan refugee camps, but she’s still the same woman who said it was “very stressful” to work with 30 black women. No matter how black she may feel, she’s still a white person of privilege in the art world. Having a black friend give her total creative freedom when they collaborate doesn’t change that.
Stay tuned to Milk for more art news.
Images via Flickr, Time Magazine, and Vanessa Beecroft.