Earlier this week, I was made aware of a “hip new clothing line” that debuted at this year’s Paris Fashion Week. The collection features representations of at least 26 Black Rock City works of art and six mutant vehicles. Several pieces also include derivatives of the Burning Man symbol.
As I clicked through the photos, my heart began to race. How did this happen? Did the artists give permission? How could ANYONE think this is okay? I was particularly bothered by the use of what appear to be personal messages from participants written on the Temple. Oh, that and the Hug Deli. I mean…. The Hug Deli?! Come on!
Burning Man Project did not authorize and does not condone this use of artwork from the event. Art created for Black Rock City isn’t fodder for ad campaigns or fashion designers.
I’m definitely not the only one who had a strong reaction. Hundreds of community members have expressed outrage; our friend Halcyon hosted two Facebook Live conversations (check them out here and here) and there’s a lively discussion on Reddit.
A number of us here at the organization are working hard to investigate the situation. We are:
- Reaching out to the 26 artists and six mutant vehicle owners whose work appears in the collection to learn what kind of communication, if any, happened with the designer’s team.
- Determining who gave permission for their work to be used, and providing resources for artists who want to advocate for their intellectual property rights.
- Finding out what kind of feedback and guidance Manish Arora and his team received from artists, photographers, and friends in the Burning Man community.
We take the exploitation of Burning Man culture very seriously. We do our best to protect and advocate for those who gift their creativity to our community.
But there’s only so much that we can do alone. From a legal perspective, Burning Man Project has the right to prevent others from using things like the Man symbol and Burning Man name, but artists own their art (of course). Artists control copyrights to their works, which means they are the ones with the right to license or deny the creation of any reproductions or derivative works.
And if there’s one thing we can count on about Burners, it’s that we’re not all going to respond to any situation in the same way. So far we’ve learned the following:
- Some artists gave permission for their artwork to appear in the clothing line.
- Other artists were contacted and did not give permission, yet their work was used anyway.
- At least one artist was not contacted but is totally okay with their art being used in this way.
For the record, Burning Man Project is totally not okay with this use of the Man symbol.
Earlier today, we sent a letter to Manish detailing our concerns and requesting the immediate removal of any pieces from the collection that incorporate any derivative of the Man or Man base, and any other pieces that incorporate the artwork of others without their permission.
This isn’t someone from the outside world exploiting Burning Man. This is an experienced Burner whose work was included in the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibition in Washington, D.C., and who seemingly failed to recognize why using these Burning Man community traditions, artworks, and mutant vehicles in his collection is wrong.
If there’s a silver lining in all of this (and I’m determined to find one!), it’s that this situation has encouraged people to talk at a deeper level about the commodification and exploitation of the Burning Man community. We’re talking about what it feels like when someone takes something central, and even sacred, to a community and uses it for what appears to be commercial gain. We’re talking about why Decommodification is core to who we are and why we find so much meaning and unconditional value in Burning Man events.
An incident like this, while deeply upsetting, provokes important conversation, and provides an opportunity to acculturate others.
We don’t have anything against people being inspired by Burning Man. In fact, we created a nonprofit organization specifically to support people bringing the spirit and ethos of Burning Man out of Black Rock City and into the wider world. But being “inspired by” is one thing. Taking the creations of others, without their permission, and suggesting they are your own without giving credit, will not be tolerated.
That’s not okay with me as a member of this community. And it’s not okay with us as an organization.
If your artwork or mutant vehicle was used in this collection, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any info about your interactions with the designer. Thank you for standing up for the culture we love.
Burning Man culture is not for sale.
Artworks and mutant vehicles represented in the collection:
- The Man
- BELIEVE, DREAM, and LOVE by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton
- Embrace by Matt Schultz and the Pier Group
- Phoenicopterus Rex and Rainbow Bridge by Josh Zubkoff
- Long View, A Polar Bear Stands in the Desert by Don Kennell
- The Hug Deli by Michael Stubbs
- Pulse Portal by Davis McCarty
- Exchanghibition Bank by Dadara
- The Temple of Awareness by the Utah Builders Community
- The Lost Tea Party by Wreckage International
- Jack Champion’s Murder by Jack Champion
- ILUMINA by Pablo Gonzalez Vargas
- What If This Is All Real?, What You Seek Is Seeking You, and Everything You Need Is Inside You by Olivia Steele
- Becoming Human by Christian Ristow
- Brain Child by Michael Christian
- Love by Michael Benisty
- Ascension by Jeremy Richardson
- Baba Yaga’s House by Jessi Sprocket Janusee and Baba Yaga’s Book Club
- Medusa Madness by Reared In Steel, LLC
- Talk to God Phonebooth by Miles Eastman
- You Might Die Tomorrow by Kate Manser
- Inside the Mind of DaVinci by Phoenix Rising and Wrecking House
- (In)visible by Kirsten Berg
- Blumen Lumen by Foldhaus Collective
- Big Al by Brennan Steele
- Heartfullness by Katy Boynton
- Mary Ellen Carter Rides Again by Daniel Backmann
- Shark Car by Sid Kurtz
- Walter the VW Bus by Kirk Strawn
- Samba Duck by David Shields
- S.S. Christina by Kelly Higgins
- The Golden Mean by Krysten Mate and John Sarriugarte
- Opalessence Idaho Core Project (“The Egg”) by Idaho Burners Alliance Core Crew
- I Have Dust in Curious Places by Scott Kapeckas
- Lamplighter Robes by Steven Wright
- Camp Tafies Project (“Balan Sander”) by Camp Tafies
Top photo by Steven Fritz