Black indie artist sees artwork, a Nipsey Hussle portrait, sold by Walmart — without permission, she says

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Kamilah Newton
·5 min read
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Artist Jeresneyka Rose, left, says she was stunned to find out her portrait of Nipsey Hussle, right, was being sold by  Walmart without her permission. (Photo: @ArtByRizzo)Photo: @ArtByRizzo
Artist Jeresneyka Rose, left, says she was stunned to find out her portrait of Nipsey Hussle, right, was being sold by Walmart without her permission. (Photo: @ArtByRizzo)

When artist Jeresneyka Rose logged on to her Instagram on a morning in early February, she received the shock of her life: messages from folks impressed that her design — a digital portrait of late rapper Nipsey Hussle — was being sold by Walmart. The catch? She had never given the retailer permission.

"People were tagging me on social media to congratulate me on a collaboration that I had no idea about," Rose, of Colorado, tells Yahoo Life. "I would have never known had it not been for social media."

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Since Rose’s initial tweet, on Feb. 4, about the whole ordeal, her post has garnered 263 retweets and she has gained tons of support, though not everyone is responding with compassion.

Rose tells Yahoo Life that some have tried to blame her for the theft of her own work, saying that she should have done more to prevent this from happening at all. "I'm going to do me regardless, and I think everybody should have the courage [to do the same]," she says.

Rose continues: "It already takes courage to be an artist. Erykah Badu said it best: 'I am an artist and I'm sensitive about my ish.' Why should I have to minimize myself, dim my light [or] shrink myself because a corporation may try to exploit me? I'm already stepping out on a limb, just following my dreams."

The artist, 29, runs Art By Rizzo — the watermark that can be found on the artwork being sold by Walmart. She says she began taking her talent with painting seriously about two years ago, after getting tired of conforming to society’s idea of adulthood. "I always loved art, but I'd never really dove into it. I worked corporate jobs, did 'normal' adult things, trying to find myself, I went to college for a bit," she says.

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"[Art] was just really relaxing, therapeutic, especially [because] I'm a person that struggles with anxiety and learning to love who I am in a society that deems that we're not good enough,” says Rose, explaining that initially, her passion for art took a backseat to societal pressures.

"[Creating art] was filling my cup and I realized that me being happy or doing things that are fulfilling my passions, goals and purpose are more important than monetary value. Yes, we have to work to live, but was that worth me sacrificing my mental sanity? It was not," says Rose.

Now, Rose is using this unfortunate incident to bring awareness to a more widespread issue. "It's not just the fact that it's one corporation — this happens every day to black artists and people of color and women, and impoverished people that don't have the resources and funds to fight for themselves. We don't have a standing chance. It's bigger than me."

Walmart did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. But it's not the first time the retailer has been faced with such an accusation from an artist: In 2017, graphic designer Deva Pardue called out the big brand for stealing her charitable Women's March logo. The retailer pulled Pardue's designs from shelves after receiving multiple cease-and-desist letters from her lawyer.

Other retailers, including Target, Winners, Rainbow, Fashion Nova and Zara have similarly been accused of ripping off designs from independent artists in order to sell them for profit.

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Rose confirms that she is seeking legal counsel, noting that, "I'm not well-versed when it comes to things like that, but there's so many other artists out there that this happens to and they never find out — they never get their due diligence, so I just would like to see what the process looks like. I just know right is right and wrong is wrong — and this is wrong."

Further, she explains, "I know that morality and business and capitalism don't go together, but they should. We live in a world where the richest people could easily end world hunger and houselessness and they choose not to, so even on something that people can perceive as small as this, in the right hands it could really change the status quo of [protecting] intellectual property."

She adds, "I don't think it's a bad thing to not watermark your work, even though I did. I watermarked [my work] because intuition is real, something told me to watermark it and I don't usually do that. But I also don't think that things like this should scare people from being themselves and posting online and sharing their work. I think the burden should lie on the corporations — we should be holding people accountable for stealing people's stuff [and] for using it without their permission."

"Especially with the pandemic that we're in right now," Rose points out, "It's really hard to get out and actually show your work at places and meet people in person. [Social media is] a great avenue and resource for artists that I don't think we should stop using — not even me."

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