Urban Decay’s Basquiat collection proves controversial in cosmetics community

May 25, 2017 — by Lina Kim

“The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings,” late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, an African-American artist who strived to challenge the status quo through using bright colors in non-traditional ways, said in his biography. “I realized that I didn't see many paintings with black people in them.”

Recently, Urban Decay, a well-known American cosmetics brand, stirred controversy with the release of its exclusive collection, featuring late artist Basquiat’s work and Ruby Rose, a gender fluid model, as the face of the collection.

Basquiat frequently exhibited the black community’s experience and advocated the Black Lives Matter movement, as he fought racial oppression through spotlighting publicized murders of black men by the police in his artwork.

Urban Decay has decided to portray his artwork through two eyeshadow palettes, one blush palette, three lipstick shades and three pencil eyeliners. All three palettes are based on Basquiat’s paintings, detailed with a small cutout in the back for hanging.

Each lip shade is based on colors Basquiat used in his paintings, and the cap is wrapped in canvas printed with Basquiat’s work. The eyeliners are also inspired by Basquiat’s paintings, designed to look like art pencils.

Although the products themselves don’t evoke controversy, many believe that one of Basquiat’s main values, representation of the black community, wasn’t respected since Ruby Rose, who is  Caucasian, was chosen to be the face of the collection.

Many African Americans, in particular, are incensed at this choice.

David Stark, the president of Artestar, the creative firm that sells and licenses Basquiat's work, defended Rose as the face of the artist’s collection and seemed to downplay Basquiat’s personal involvement in the pro-Black movement.

“Even though he grew up in a middle-class black family, his family was Caribbean," he told New York Magazine. “They didn't have the African American experience; he was Haitian and Puerto Rican.”

Nonetheless, Urban Decay’s Basquiat collection remains questionable to many.

Urban Decay has not made any comment on the controversy.