(AllHipHop Features) Jay Z's partnership with high-end retailer Barneys New York came under fire after two African American customers accused the store of having them detained because of racially motivated profiling. Critics called for Jay to cut business ties with Barneys and cancel his exclusive apparel line with the company.
While there were many detractors to the Jay/Barneys relationship in the wake of the profiling allegations (including a Charge.org petition now with over 57,000 signatures), there were also many supporters of Jay's decision to continue selling his limited edition Barneys line, because it will collect proceeds for his nonprofit Shawn Carter Foundation.
One of those supporters is artist Daniel Edwards who created the Care Bear inspired sculpture "Jay Z Cares and Shares." Edwards had been critical of Jay in the past, but the Indiana native says this time he supports the "Empire State of Mind" rapper.
AllHipHop.com connected with Edwards for an exclusive interview to discuss his work, the Barneys controversy, Kim Kardashian, and more.
AllHipHop.com: You previously created a sculpture that was critical of Jay Z when he was selling his "Occupy All Streets" T-shirts. Why did you decide to create a sculpture supporting Jay in the Barneys controversy?
Daniel Edwards: With the Barneys' controversy, I felt he was being victimized a little bit. He was the only person associated with Barneys who was being criticized for not breaking ties over their racial profiling policy, which is not fair.
Regarding the Occupy All Streets T-shirts, I felt it was unnecessary for Jay Z to present himself as though he was profiting from the OWS movement – it was a PR blunder for him. I feel his trip to Cuba didn’t help his image either –a wasted opportunity for good press, I thought. Instead of smoking cigars in the streets, he could have been seen helping those people. A little forethought there could have helped him with his current PR blunder. Maybe he’s a little too eager to be seen as a mogul for his own good.
You released a statement with your "Scrooge" sculpture making the point that Jay represents the 1% and not the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is your response to critics of Jay's Barneys collection who say those items also represent and are specifically priced only for the wealthy?
I think he is demonstrating that there is a high value to be placed on his aesthetic, which, I think, is meant to represent Brooklyn. That can be uplifting for those who come from the same place and share his aesthetic. And if the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation is legitimately raising funds from those profits for students in need, then it makes sense to court the people with the money.
What is your opinion on the allegations that Barneys racially profiles African American customers? Would you personally support the collection?
No, I will not support the collection at Barneys if I feel that allegations of racial profiling are founded, and I am sure there is merit to the allegations. But I wonder, is it a milestone that Barneys is representing Jay Z’s image? I think it might be, and I could see why Jay Z would protect that. I would assume some party with an agenda would object to his brand being represented at Barneys, and I could also see another party with another agenda trying to force him into action against the establishment. Both parties with opposing agendas might prefer he left Barneys. I’m glad he stood his ground, and I hope he finds a time in the future to address the issue of racial profiling.
Jay Z has been very vocal about his knowledge and appreciation of contemporary art. Has he or anyone on his team ever reached out to you?
And I like that about him! I’d be surprised if he contacted me! I don’t think my work about him has been too flattering!
You've done a few pieces relating to Kim Kardashian. Why is she a regular muse for your art?
She was impossible to ignore when I did my work about her!
Are there any pop culture figures that you haven't depicted yet that you think could be a future subject for your work?
I’d be very happy if I could do pieces on Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan that could receive relevant attention. I’d like to do a piece on Obama before he leaves office. I enjoy doing work concerning civil rights issues and have since doing a public monument of MLK Jr. for the city of Indianapolis in 1995. But mostly, I love taking up the point of view that seems to get neglected in the media and if I can find the right celebrity image to appropriate for the cause, I’m happy.
How do you view the value of art as not just something for amusement, but as social commentary as well?
That is a very considerate question to ask me! I am lucky to have the opportunity to talk to people like you about relevant issues, and that could not happen for me if it were not for art. It is nice to make a cool image, make someone smile, but it is even nicer to be able to say something with it that may have meaning and prompt a point of view.
For more information about Daniel Edwards and his work visit www.cacanet.com.
[ALSO READ: EXCLUSIVE: Derick Bowers Discusses His Jay Z Petition, Getting Charlamagne’s “Donkey of the Day” & What He Expects From Barneys’ CEO]
Watch a 2009 video of Daniel Edwards talking about his work below.