The French artist Kader Attia—who’s had a tremendous year, in which he won the Marcel Duchamp Prize and launched his own art space in Paris—is finishing 2016 on a less positive note: He is accusing French rappers Dosseh and Nekfeu of plagiarism in their video Putain d’epoque [shitty times], and has filed a lawsuit in France against their label Universal Music.
The song’s video clip, launched in late November, features people kneeling, as if in prayer, covered with emergency blankets resembling metallic chadors. The visual motif was developed by Attia in his 2007 sculptural installation Ghost, which became one of his landmark pieces.
The clip was removed after the plagiarism claims were made by Attia, but a silent version can be watched here).
But artist Kendell Geers hasn’t taken too kindly to Attia’s reaction.
In an open letter published two days ago on one of Le Monde’s blogs, the South African conceptualist— who exhibited with Attia a decade ago and with whom he shares representation by Galleria Continua—gave an impassioned plea in favor of artistic appropriation, strongly disapproving of Attia’s complaint:
I have on many occasions used the works of other artists and writers, cutting them up and slicing them in with “Minutes to Go,” like William Burroughs, Brian Gysin [sic], Gregory Corso, and the South African Sinclair Beiles. Their Cut Up concept was itself lifted from Tristan Tzara and has since evolved into what might be read as the spiritual core of Rap, Hip Hop, urban culture and the corner stone of Pop Art and Post Modernism.
If I were you, I would take it as a huge compliment that young French artists have decided to Cut your work Up into their online video. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Plagiarism is not theft and in the context of Dosseh and Nekfeu, I would be flattered if I were you.
The point that you are making with regard the rights of artist is very important and needs to be said again “… As visual artists, we must defend ourselves against the non-consensual uses of our works. …. Everyone is plundering us, whether it’s advertising or the cultural industry.”
If there is any industry that should be protested against, it is our own, the art business. Sadly art, and artists, are no longer judged by vision, integrity, contribution to history, or even aesthetics. No, we are judged only by price, sales, and market ranking. As artists grow ever more powerful and their bank balances swell, there are few who dare speak out in defence of our craft because we all know that would be to bite the hand that feeds. We have become the flotsam and jetsam in a stream of economics that instrumentalizes every one of us without respect.
In the letter, Geers also goes on to suggest—giving visual evidence—that Attia drew inspiration from his own work on up to four occasions, which he doesn’t feel threatened about or plagiarized, but rather flattered.
The South African artist ends his letter calling Attia to “Drop the plagiarism claim and allow other artists the right to sing their anthem, their protest to our times, Putain d’époque! ! ! !”
Meawhile, Attia told ARTnews in a statement that he’s not fighting against the two rappers, but suing their label, which he considers liable for the copyright breach.
“As artists, we have to defend ourselves against unauthorized commercial uses of our artworks. We are constantly plagiarized by the music industry, or in advertisement, or fashion… Nobody has asked for my permission to reproduce the artwork Ghost in this video,” Attia said.
“Regarding Kendell Geers, I am appalled to see he had to resort to such low blows to draw attention to him. I won’t comment any further. Artists should stand up together and present a united front to big companies that plagiarize their work,” Attia added.
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