“Cultural appropriation is something that continually happens to African-American artists, and I want to make a stand.” These were the words of British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor, speaking to The NYT about an alleged copyright infringement of her gold-patterned series of paintings Constellations. The artist says her work was stolen by Lamar and unlawfully used in the music video for his recently released single with SZA, “All The Stars,” the lead single from Lamar’s album accompanying the soon-to-debut Marvel superhero film Black Panther.
Viktor said she had been contacted twice by the film’s creators, asking for permission to feature her work. She is said to have considered it, but ultimately refused in order to keep creative control over her artwork. Last Saturday, Viktor’s lawyer, Christopher Robinson, sent a letter to Lamar and his label Top Dawg Entertainment alleging a copyright violation of his client’s work, calling Lamar’s use of gold patterns in the music video “willful and egregious.” The letter continued by stating that Viktor would consider resolving this issue with “a minimum of a public apology for the unauthorized use and a license fee.”
The disputed portion of the “All the Stars” video is a 19-second-long segment (screenshotted at the top of this article) starting at the 2:59 mark, where Lamar walks behind a group of women posed in front of gold-patterned geometric shapes. According to Viktor’s attorney, this segment is not only “immediately identifiable” as the artist’s work, but also violates many of the copyrightable elements in Constellations, including “stylized motifs of mythical animals, gilded geometric forms on a black background, and distinctively textured areas and patterns, arrayed in a grid-like arrangement of forms.” Lamar, Disney, Top Dawg Entertainment’s Anthony Tiffith declined to comment for The NYT’s story, while the music video’s director Dave Meyers and Lamar’s creative partner Dave Free did not respond to comment requests.
On Feb. 6, website Okay Africa posted in their breakdown of the aforementioned music video, “The work and influence of British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor can be clearly spotted.” Two days later, Creative Director for the Supreme Clientele Design Agency and longtime supporter of Viktor’s work, Sarah Huny Young, posted side-by-side comparisons of the two disputed works on her Twitter page:
Viktor’s Constellations series was planned to be exhibited at the Armory Show in New York this month, following Viktor’s Black Exodus: Act I — Materia Prima, which premiered at the Amar Gallery in London last year. A solo show of her work will also be presented at the New Orleans Museum of Art this October. Needless to say, the working artist feels taken advantage of. The artist told The NYT, “African excellence—that’s the whole concept of [Black Panther’s] story. And at the same time they’re stealing from African artists.”
Meanwhile, Black Panther continues to create excitement, shaping up to be one of the most significant cultural phenomena of the year. Yesterday, Lamar took to Twitter in support of his first full-length album curated specifically for a film, thanking all of those who contributed to making Black Panther: The Album.
Revisit the “All The Stars” music video below. Black Panther opens in theatres this Friday, Feb. 16. Stream the film’s soundtrack featuring SZA, The Weeknd, Future and many others, here.