UK Artist Zoe Buckman Appropriates Rap Lyrics for White Feminist Art Installation

British artist Zoe Buckman released her art exhibit Every Curve earlier this year at Papillion Art in Los Angeles, California. The exhibition, three years in the making, explores the “contradictory and complimentary influences of feminism and hip-hop in her upbringing.” Buckman’s installation is full of hand-embroidered lingerie with rap lyrics on women from Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.

Although the exhibit has been taken down, it’s amazing to see the overflowing of praise Buckman has received for this art installation when it’s appropriated from Black hip hop feminists and exploits the usage of Black culture and signifiers for the sake of a white feminist lens and perspective. As a white cisgender woman, Zoe Buckman does exactly what white feminists and white women always do: steal, appropriate and ignore larger context issues of how misogyny operates.

“There’s something innately brilliant about the juxtaposition in artist Zoë Buckman’s latest project, ‘Every Curve,’ which features dainty pieces of vintage lingerie hand-embroidered with Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls lyrics in neon thread, hung together as though suspended by invisible clotheslines. By literally reworking pieces of history, Buckman attempts to bring closure to the tradition of misogyny in hip-hop with a perspective that is both original and very much a product of the best parts of third wave feminism,” i-D magazine raves.

The misogyny in hip-hop referred to within the i-D interview itself completely dismisses the context of how Black culture and rap operate through white supremacy. Misogyny within rap cannot be fully explored or referenced through whiteness or white gaze, especially that of a white cisgender woman. Not only does antiblackness and white supremacist violence allow for a hypercritical focus on rap of all musical genres to employ misogyny and violence against women, but these systematic ideological structures also shape how white women are often self-assumed to be the direct victim of rap’s misogyny (read: victims of black men’s violence).

In the i-D interview, Buckman goes on to say, “When I became older and started to become more in tune with my political leanings, there was a disconnect between the feminist in me and the hip-hop side of me, and I don’t know if, in some way, those influences are also present in Tupac’s work. Many people don’t know this about Tupac, but he said some incredibly uplifting, pro-choice things about women, but he also said the opposite. When it comes to Biggie on women, it’s very difficult to find anything positive, even about his mother. But there is an unmistakable humor to his voice, so you kind of don’t know if he was joking. As a feminist, my approach is not to shun them or their music and say, “That’s bad, I never want to listen to this.” My approach is to take their words and recreate them as something beautiful and thought-provoking.”

The most complex piece of understanding the white feminist-y creep vibes of Buckman’s work is the fact that Buckman claims to also understand the power within the lyricism of rap, in which she self-identifies with it. But here’s the gag: rap, especially Biggie and Tupac, is not created for the consumption or empowerment of white women and femmes. Especially because the misogynistic and desire politic nuance and content of rap from cisgender-straight black men is almost always directed towards black women and femmes, even if white women and femmes are referenced.

True to white feminist form, this concept has already been/is being explored by Black women and femmes who identify as hip-hop feminists, or black feminists that utilize popular culture to examine positioning and identity politics. While Buckman is praised for doing something provocative and innovative by Huffington Post, i-D, Refinery29 and The New York Times, her crux of creativity is based in white mediocrity.

Using any form of art produced and created within Black culture for a white lens-produced analysis is violence. This violence is particular because antiblackness is vast yet specific in how it operates, especially when it comes to the art and creation of black people in the face of white supremacist violence. Rap is ours. It’s sacred, and complicated, and powerful, and can also be an abuser to black women and femmes. Our culture will always be ours to critique and to garner power from. White feminists, stay in your lane and critique your cousins.

Ashleigh Shackelford