Last week, makeup brand Urban Decay announced it would release a capsule collection inspired by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Aside from the debate as to whether Basquiat would be down for this, another discussion has brewed. This more pressing dialogue centers around Urban Decay's execution of the campaign. Specifically, the potentially inappropriate decision to have Ruby Rose front the campaign.
It's fair to note that Rose has been the face of Urban Decay since 2016, so that no doubt influenced the brand's casting choice. She also is an under-the-radar Basquiat stan. The actress has his work tatted on her, including his iconic crown motif (pictured above).
However, when a missed opportunity to cast a Black model is glaringly obvious, it just comes off as tone-deaf.
The Cut's senior beauty editor Ashley Weatherford sat down with David Stark, who's in charge of Basquiat's estate, to ask the hard questions.
Stark had the following to say about the Ruby Rose mishap:
"It wasn’t that we chose her because she was white or black, she was already selected by Urban Decay to be the spokesperson for their brand. 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.' He would say a lot of the protagonists in his work are Black figures, and he would say, 'I didn’t see a lot of Black figures in paintings,' so he would have his own subversive angle towards these things. 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. His heritage was Haitian and Puerto Rican. He had a very multicultural background."
We get that Urban Decay didn't do anything outright "wrong" with using its normal spokesmodel in this campaign, but it begs a wider, more comprehensive discussion. Are creatives really doing all they can to level the playing field for POC models? With this Basquiat campaign, the answer is looking like no. Our hope is, by continually bringing attention to such decisions, change will come.
(Photo: Courtesy of Urban Decay)