Earlier this year in the quiet city of Chippendale, Australia, a mural appeared that made headlines around the world. The piece, created by Australian street artist Scott Marsh, was a recreation of a meme that circulated around the internet the previous year. The meme, and the subsequent mural, depicted Kanye West kissing his wife Kim Kardashian, except her face was replaced with another Kanye face. The meme had been shown around the world and, consequently, the mural also gained its fair amount of attention, including from Kanye West’s staff.
Marsh claims that he received a call from Kanye’s management shortly after the mural went viral, asking to have the piece taken down. In response, Marsh announced he had created a print of the mural and that it was for sale, for $100,000 and a lifetime supply of Kanye-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers. When that print was purchased, he would paint over the original mural.
While no one from Kanye’s team has taken responsibility, Marsh received the money a few days later and, a few days after that, he painted over the mural. Marsh, for his part, was surprised that things happened the way they did, starting with the mural gaining so much attention. ‘’I’m surprised there has been so much worldwide attention,” Marsh told the Illawarra Mercury. “I did it as a kind of a funny jab at the occult celebrity and celebrity culture and the power of media, in particular social media.’’ Marsh could not have picked a more appropriate subject for his work. Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian have become some of the biggest celebrities in the world precisely because of their approach to social media and their lifestyle (and, in the case of Kanye, because of his music).
When we talk about celebrity in the modern age, we are talking about their permeance, their ability to move through the separations and layers of our society with relative ease. Today, a social media post can be copied, altered, copied again, and sent around the world. It can show up on news sites and, in rare instances, on the side of a wall in Chippendale, Australia. And people can turn celebrity into almost anything. Ronald Reagan used his celebrity to help him win the presidency and another presidential hopeful is using the same tactics again today.
A celebrity’s ability to show up anywhere is a double-edged sword as well, one that the Kardashians have been trying to master for years. There strikes a balance between people’s forgetfulness and the internet’s ability to keep anything and everything easily searchable and accessible. Kanye may have allegedly forked over six figures to have a mural removed, but pictures of the mural are easily found through a simple Google search.
Street art and murals can challenge and provoke in multiple ways, including towards our obsessions with celebrity. For Marsh, tapping into our love of the rich and famous has earned him money and fame as well. But, as he says, these things can be fleeting.
‘’The attention has definitely lifted my profile. It’s just a matter now that I’ve got to work really hard and try and turn that into something tangible rather than 15 minutes of fame.’’