Entertainment

Jay-Z and Beyoncé Take Flak for Using Basquiat Art in Tiffany Ad

Numerous online creators are raking power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé over the coals for the depiction of famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in a new ad campaign for jeweler Tiffany & Co.

In addition to Jay-Z’s hair homage to the late artist, a teaser video for the ABOUT LOVE campaign positions the couple in front of a “rarely seen” Basquait painting from 1982, “Equals Pi.”

Destiny Lewis, a 23-year-old oil painter from Maryland also known as @bupropionbaddiee, created a TikTok captioned “That man [Basquiat] is rolling in his grave,” highlighting an erasure of Basquait that’s inherent in the commercialization of his works.

Lewis, whose work “primarily serves to showcase the beauty of the Black community,” was particularly troubled by the inclusion of Basquait in the ad.

“Once I saw the Basquiat painting, the part of my brain that doesn’t allow me to fully enjoy things without dissecting them, lit up,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t help but feel queasy over seeing an artist who was exploited by gallerists, and struggled with the knowledge that his art was simply seen as a status symbol with no real depth, be used once again in the same manner after his tragic death.”

In a TikTok that has currently received nearly 63,000 likes and 806 shares, Lewis states, “If there is one thing Basquiat made very clear in his art is that he hated the way that wealthy, usually white people, took Black artists and stripped their work of any context or nuance and used it as a status symbol to flaunt their wealth.”

Another point of contention? The 128.54-carat yellow diamond, also known as the Tiffany Diamond, that Beyoncé wears in the teaser, now dubbed “the blood diamond” by some online users.

Another online user, Musa, shared, “The diamond’s history definitely drew a big response from people, for good reason. The term ‘blood diamond’ started getting thrown around online instantly…”

Lewis had similar views on the diamond in another post: “The covid-19 pandemic has been raging for over a year now with minimal government support … Wearing an unethically sourced diamond from Africa and flaunting a painting by a dead artist who was exploited by the wealthy to sell diamonds for a company with a murky past, just falls flat. It’s like read the room; now isn’t the time for that.”

According to their website, Tiffany & Co acquired the diamond in 1878 from the Kimberley mines in South Africa. Actress Audrey Hepburn famously wore the Tiffany diamond in the 1960s during publicity for the iconic film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Beyoncé is only the fourth woman to wear the diamond necklace and, more notably, the first Black woman to do so.

Much of the mainstream coverage of the collaboration highlights the many “firsts” of the campaign — the first time Beyoncé and Jay-Z appear in an ad campaign together, the first Black woman to ever wear the Tiffany diamond, the first time the Equals Pi painting is visible to the public.

Tiffany & Co. is pushing this narrative of historical firsts as well, with messaging on their website that reads “Making History: Two iconic creative forces. One legendary diamond … Today, a new chapter begins with Beyoncé.”

As Musa argued, the collaboration represents “Beyoncé ushering herself into her legend status … I think Beyoncé wants to give us timelessness, she wants to give us high art, she wants to give us luxury, she wants to give us Black capitalism.”

In addition to the print ad campaign featuring the couple and a film directed by Emmanuel Adjei — which launch on Sept. 2 and Sept. 15, respectively — the ABOUT LOVE campaign also pledges to donate $2 million to historically Black colleges and universities.

Like many on social media, Lewis maintains more can be done.

“The 2 million dollar HBCU donation seemed like an attempt, but coming from billionaires, it’s a drop to them,” she wrote.

And even if this collaboration represents history in the making, Musa insists that the atmosphere online will continue to “hold the Carters accountable.”

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