Opinion

Vanessa Beecroft Publicly Airs a Racist Perspective

Vanessa Beecroft and her favorite props, Africans (photo via Wikipedia)
Vanessa Beecroft and her favorite props, black bodies (photo via Wikipedia)

One can only imagine the patience and tolerance required of New York Magazine writer Amy Larocca to spend time with Vanessa Beecroft and listen to the utter absurdity spewing from the artist’s mouth. In a lengthy profile published for The Cut’s fall issue, Beecroft reveals some very interesting facts about herself: that her diet consists mostly of powders; that she refers to her assumedly very clean and safe home in Hollywood Hills as a “favela”; and that she harbors some very, very messed-up thoughts about race.

Vanessa Beecroft, "Le Membre Fantôme" at the 2015 Venice Biennale (photo by Fabio Omero via Flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license) (click to enlarge)
Vanessa Beecroft, “Le Membre Fantôme” at the 2015 Venice Biennale (photo by Fabio Omero via Flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license) (click to enlarge)

Beecroft “withdrew from the art world” nearly six years ago after years of arranging mostly naked women in standing positions, and the hook for the profile seems to be her steady collaborations with Kanye West. Shit hits the fan straight from Larocca’s first paragraph, when Beecroft talks about this relationship with West and channels Rachel Dolezal:

“I have divided my personality,” the Italian artist says. “There is Vanessa Beecroft as a European white female, and then there is Vanessa Beecroft as Kanye, an African-American male.” She then reveals that she actually took a DNA test as she thought she could very possibly be black. Spoiler alert: she is not.

“I was kind of disappointed, and I don’t want to believe it,” Beecroft continues. “I want to do it again, because when I work with Africans or African-Americans, I feel that I am autobiographical. If I don’t call myself white, maybe I am not.”

It’s incredibly surprising Beecroft even managed to make the distinction between those two groups, since she admitted that people from Africa and Jamaica look the same to her eyes:

I had wanted to move to the States because of the presence of African-Americans. When I landed at JFK, my first impression is being welcomed by all of these African, or maybe Jamaican, air people that help you at the airport with your luggage. They were so kind. Welcome! I was so happy to see mixed races. In Italy, they are in the street selling gadgets.

It is so lovely that America opened up Beecroft’s eyes to smiling, helpful “air people,” but much more charming is her touchdown in Africa, when she went to what is now South Sudan to film “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins,” the notorious documentary in which she breastfeeds two orphans and, oh, attempts to adopt them.

“It was so beautiful, really aesthetical!” she presumably gushed to Larocca when describing her perception of the war-torn country. “And everyone looked like Alek Wek.”

A happy man! Yeezy/Kayne West finale @tmagazine @yeezyseason2 #NYFW #SS16

A photo posted by Malina Joseph Gilchrist (@malinajoseph) on

How people from Africa look endlessly fascinates Beecroft: she had a very specific vision of how to portray refugees from Rwanda when explaining the creative calls behind her recent Madison Square Garden collaboration with Kanye for his launch of Yeezy Season 3:

I wanted the people to look poor. Poverty and elegance were the key words. Poverty and elegance. No trends, no fashion. Real poverty, what you encounter when you travel to Africa, Mexico, those countries where people wear their clothes with dignity and they look elegant and they look like they have intelligence. When we were casting, I said, ‘Please don’t have anyone who looks stupid. Or fancy. Please. Classical, poor, and elegant.’

It turns out Beecroft’s interest in black bodies spans decades … all the way back to her youth, actually, when she rarely came across people of different races, as Larocca reported.

“When I was a child, I won a prize at school for drawing black children in a ship,” she says. “There were probably 30 or 40 of them. A lot. I drew so many of them, and I won a prize because the sisters of the nursery school were kind of mesmerized. So you see, everything comes from somewhere.”

Yes. Now that we know that young Beecroft was praised for her depictions that set black people on a boat, everything is certainly starting to make sense.

Read the whole piece here, but not before getting yourself an Advil, because your neck will probably be sore from shaking your head so much.

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