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Desiigner's Panda Mask Was Made by a Taxidermy Artist [Exclusive]

We spoke to taxidermy artist Kate Clark, who made the rapper's custom mask for his "Panda" music video.

by Beckett Mufson
May 12 2016, 2:20pm

Screencap via

The words, "I got broads in Atlanta," today is a sign that whereever you are—a house party, the club, alone in the parking lot of a Whole Foods—things are about to get turnt. The immediately infectious opening words of Desiigner's "Panda" became even more ubiquitous on Monday when he released the song's official music video, which made headlines for its descent-into-party-insanity vibe and a sick sequence where Desiigner is joyriding around the city with Kanye West.

Viewers may have been disappointed by the apparent lack of actual pandas in the video, but the observant will notice that the mask Desiigner wears at the video's climax looks like it may well have been carved from an actual panda's face skin. Thankfully, this is not the case, as we have confirmed from the mask's creator, artist Kate Clark, that it is not the product of any endangered species. It is, however, real animal hide.

Clark works with salvaged animal fur that would otherwise waste away, to create eerie taxidermied animals adorned with human-like faces. She was enlisted by "Panda" executive producer Kathleen Heffernan to invert her signature style and instead put an animal face on a human rapper. Clark tells The Creators Project she was immediately enticed by the prospect of Heffernen's request for what she was told was "a special project with Kanye West and Desiigner." Says Clark, "I emailed back immediately."

In Clark's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, which she says is, "coincidentally pretty close to where a lot of the video takes place," "Panda" is almost unavoidable. "It catches you immediately," says Clark. "When I was working on the project I was in my studio late nights and when I came home to get some rest, the song was blasting into my apartment, so I was really living with it. It’s playing outside my window right now."

She continues, "For the video, they envisioned Desiigner turning into a panda, so my balance of human/animal was what they wanted." The mask dominates the final 15 seconds of the video, showing Desiigner's face transformed, but the rest of his body is hidden by a hoodie. For narrative's sake, we can assume he is fully transformed into the creature he's been rapping about for the duration of the song.

Traditionally, Clark's work is true to the hide of the animal she's sculpting, but "Panda" required her to break this rule. "Since I obviously can’t (and don’t want to) get a panda hide, I had to create something similar using black bear hide and antelope hide." Working with a cast of Desiigner's face, she stitched together the two animal pelts, strategically shaving areas to make the mask uncannily human. Desiigner visited her studio to pin and trim the final details into place, and Clark says he had great energy and was, "very cool about being a fan of my work." You know the collaboration is successful when you see the rapper don the mask—his character has gone completely out of his brain.

Photo by Jeff Hutton
 courtesy Kate Clark

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Now that the video has been released, Clark will display the mask as part of her solo show, Kate Clark: Mysterious Presence at the Newcomb Art Museum in New Orleans. Then it will travel to the Hilliard Museum in Louisiana at the end of May. But that doesn't necessarily mean this is the last time we'll see the Brooklyn rapper go full panda on his audience. "Desiigner and I have talked about opportunities for him to wear it again and of course I want that to happen!" she says.

This collaboration is exciting because it's an all too uncommon instance of a pop star enlisting a fine artist to actualize the ideas they've spent years thinking about. "I was excited about the project because they were not asking me to make a prop, but instead to make one of my signature sculptures, using all of the details that I’ve developed through the years to make a visual balance between human and animal," Clark says. There have been a number of controversial music videos that artists claim "imitate" their work, in some cases winding up in court. It's always nice to see the opposite happen. At it's heart, "Panda" may be a banger about losing your mind to the party, it's also proof that sometimes we can all get along.

Image courtesy Kate Clark

See more of Kate Clark's work on her website.

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