Kanye West Ripped Off Her Work. Then Came the ‘Hateful Messages.’
Artist Rita Minissi tells The Daily Beast she was traumatized after the rapper tweeted images strikingly similar to her work—and she got hate mail for speaking up about it.
On June 12, the always and increasingly controversial Kanye West tweeted out a series of striking images—bodies dressed in neutral colors, hoodies and bicycle shorts or nothing at all, standing in front of white walls, and entangled on the smooth cement.
He then clarified to his 28.5 million followers that we were looking at a new Yeezy campaign showcasing the Supermoon Yellow Yeezy 500, shot by Eli Linnetz. But although unmistakably Yeezy, the aesthetic of the NSFW shoot also brought to mind another artist. Diet Prada, the Instagram account that calls out fashion world knockoffs, shared photos of the new campaign side-by-side with artist Rita Minissi’s work. Diet Prada captioned the post: “Another day, another Kanye rip.”
Minissi herself called out the similarities between the campaign and a 2015 photo series in an Instagram story titled “why meezy?” The story includes pictures of the original work next to pictures from the Yeezy campaign, as well as some context.
“It’s been ten years since I initially began my ‘self and other’ series, an ongoing practice that has continued to evolve each time its repeated, but has never directly revealed its personal significance,” the artist wrote.
Minissi went on to discuss her exploration of trauma in her work, writing about “an event that took place thirteen years ago and consequently altered everything about who I was as a person.” She continued, “In the aftermath, the combined trauma of both the event and my own reactionary self defense felt so overwhelming, I was unable to share what had happened with anyone for over a year. In all, it took me almost five years to be able to verbalize the entire experience.”
Later on in her Instagram story, Minissi wrote, “Received a note from a blank account telling me that I ‘must have a death wish to be fucking with ye.’”
The New York-based artist told The Daily Beast in a statement: “Although I am deeply distressed by this exploitation, the greater issue here is that a large corporate entity is profiting off of years of labor from a self-funded artist by turning something cathartic into capital; attempting to steal the truth of an individual without consequences.” She added, “This is not an isolated instance, to the corporate entity in question or to the industry as a whole.”
In late April, West tweeted out a few anatomical sketches, claiming, “this is where a YEEZY study for base layer starts.”
Designer Tony Spackman called bullshit, writing on Instagram, “When Kanye rips your 10-year-old Nike sketch and claims it.”
The prolific Diet Prada account also shared side-by-sides of the tweeted image and the original 2005 drawing, musing, “Is Ye just showing his creative process with inspiration images or claiming the work to be his own? Photoshopping out the title of the sketch in the top left corner is pretty much a dead giveaway lol.”
West eventually addressed the controversy on Twitter, blaming a team member for Yeezy’s faux pas. “Today I learned that a newly hired designer on the Yeezy team presented work that was not of their own. This person has immediately been let go from the Yeezy brand,” he shared, adding, “In a moment of inspiration, energy and excitement I had posted this sketch and would like to acknowledge the true creator of this amazing work, Tony Spackman.”
So far Minissi has received no such public redress or shout-out from West. “To be clear, it’s not an issue between me as a person and Kanye West or the photographer as a person,” she said. “I have supported both Kanye and the Yeezy brand for years, and had I been contacted, would have happily collaborated.”
“I am an intensely private person excessively outside of my comfort zone right now. A painful personal trauma is defining my identity in news media, while I receive hateful messages from strangers when I’ve done nothing wrong and never desired to be at the center of a public spectacle,” the artist continued.
“Undoubtedly, this situation is not solely significant to me and my story, but to all other artists/creatives who have endured a similar ethical offense.”
These issues of authorship and influence have plagued the Kardashians, Kanye West’s in-laws, for years. The famous family has been accused of copying on multiple occasions; more specifically, there’s an alleged pattern of stealing the creative work of black women for personal gain, which plays into a larger narrative of Kardashians flagrantly appropriating black culture whenever it is profitable or appealing to them.
As Destiney Bleu, a designer who said Khloé Kardashian stole ideas from her for her Good American clothing line, stated via her attorney, “There is also something deeply uncomfortable about someone with Khloé’s wealth and power appropriating designs and fashion directly from a black woman with a small business without crediting her, making cheap knockoffs, and then attempting to threaten her into silence.”
Feeling entitled to others’ work and/or reluctant to give them any credit appears to be an ethos of the extended family. As West himself tweeted in April, “too much emphasis is put on originality. Feel free to take ideas and update them at your will all great artist take and update.”