DC lawyer/lobbyist and entrepreneur (and former Washingtonian Style Setter) Vinoda Basnayake has long been a big fan of Kanye West. Now, he’s the proud new owner of the musician/designer’s childhood artwork.
Basnayake’s interest in West’s artwork was piqued last year, when it was showcased on an episode of PBS series Antiques Roadshow. There, four of West’s pieces, along with a program from an art show the rapper held when he was 17, were presented by Damien Dziepak. Dziepak said that his husband is West’s first cousin, and that his spouse received the art after the 2007 death of Kanye’s mother, Donda West.
Basnayake—who is a partner at the law firm Nelson Mullins and the founder of Versus Equity, a private equity/consulting/management firm with a portfolio that includes local hospitality and lifestyle businesses—says he was “immediately drawn to the piece that looks sort of like a chained centaur.” Even, he claims, before he knew it had been created by Kanye West. “There was something about it that I felt a strong connection to,” Basnayake says. “The minute I heard it was by Kanye—one of my favorite artists of all time—I knew I had to have it.”
Basnayake says that he first reached out to the show and its appraiser, Laura Woolley. “Interestingly, they have a policy not to take down the contact information of their guests,” he says. So using clues he gathered from the segment, he did a Google deep dive and found Dziepak and West’s cousin, Stephan Scoggins.
That was in March 2020. Initially, the couple said they weren’t interested in selling. But Basnayake persisted with follow-up inquiries, and Dziepak and Scoggins responded again this past January. Within a week, Basnayake had signed a contract to buy the pieces. “They said they had multiple offers after the show, but I was the most consistent and they appreciated my sincere interest in Kanye.” He flew to California to pick up the artwork in person. (The Antiques Roadshow appraiser suggested that the four pieces grouped together were worth $16,000 to 23,000, but an NDA prohibits Basnayake from disclosing how much he actually paid for them.)
The timing was serendipitous. In February, controversy bubbled up after West’s now-estranged wife, Kim Kardashian, posted artwork by their daughter North West on Instagram. Social media critics questioned the authenticity of the seven-year-old’s paintings, and, in part of a heated rebuttal, Kardashian posted photos of Kayne West’s childhood art. The same art that Basnayake had gotten his hands on just two days before that.
The four pieces are in a variety of mediums, including graphite, gouache, and scratchboard (Basnayake also got that program for West’s teenage art show). According to the program, Kanye began studying art at Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Academy at age 4, then went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago State University, Nanjing University in the People’s Republic of China, and Polaris School for Individual Eduction. The program also noted West’s intention to “begin his studies for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and continue to pursue a career as a music producer as well.”
Once Basnayake got the pieces home, he promptly had them framed at Italo Frame in Arlington. “I knew I wanted to use a company that worked with museums, and they had that experience.” Even so, he is still not sure where he’ll display them. As a collector, he’d envisioned hanging them at home—but he says the list of museums and galleries that have contacted him is growing. “I am pretty confident that I’m going to display them somewhere so other people can enjoy them” he says.
So is Basnayake a regular Antiques Roadshow viewer? “Funny you should ask that!” he said, “I feel like my friends were more surprised to hear I was watching Antiques Roadshow than they were to hear I acquired Kanye’s art. Antiques Roadshow is the perfect background TV!”