If you haven't seen the new video for "Apeshit," the first single from Beyonce and Jay-Z's surprise joint album, Everything Is Love, you may just be missing art history in the making.
Or according to a recent article in Vox, at the very least, you'll be missing all the juicy cultural subtext of this black American power couple filming in the Louvre, surrounded by the iconography of classical Western art recontextualized as a joyous finger in the face of "The Man."
The Vox piece, writer Constance Grady asserts:
...when Beyoncé shoots at the Louvre — taking on by turns the poses of Venus de Milo and Victory — she’s continuing an artistic project of recontextualizing classical Western art, of making herself the aesthetic object on which so much wealth and cultural capital has been spent. And coming from a black woman, that’s a radical statement.
And she's not alone in this analysis:
In the piece, Grady interviewed University of Maryland Baltimore County Professor of Art History James Smalls who said:
In a way, Beyoncé is exploiting/marketing her blackness as creativity — as a kind of weapon — within and against the very Eurocentric system of culture and consumption from which she has benefited.
It's pretty heady stuff considering as Grady points out, that the majority of art in the Louvre features very little of "people of color in positions of strength and power."
From the Middle Ages up to the 19th century, works of art that showed black people usually represented them as servants or secondary figures. They were not deemed worthy subjects of paintings, sculptures, or other kinds of cultural works.
1) The visual and lyrical message of #Apeshit is that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have MADE IT. They own the motherfucking Louvre which has been and still is a white-centric space with a history deeply rooted in colonialism. Thus, centering black bodies in this space is radical. pic.twitter.com/lLafST2Urd— Queen Curly Fry (@itsmeheidi_h) June 17, 2018
2) The first shot of the duo is in front of the Mona Lisa, the most recognizable portrait in the museum. People from around then world flock to the Mona Lisa to take their picture with her (i.e. next image). Beyoncé (and Jay-Z I guess) is visually asserting herself as Mona Lisa. pic.twitter.com/smpysAEDyy— Queen Curly Fry (@itsmeheidi_h) June 17, 2018
Of particular interest to Smalls is the portrait featured at the end of the video, Marie Benoist’s, Portrait d’une négresse:
"That painting is an anomaly because it presents a black person as the sole aestheticized subject and object of a work of art,” Smalls says.
13) Benoist’s Portrait of a Black Woman is one of the only portraits of black women in the history of Western art until the 20th century or so. It was completed by a female artist, possibly in support of the abolition movement. Now we have a female creator + black independence. pic.twitter.com/QB9c09y2W2— Queen Curly Fry (@itsmeheidi_h) June 17, 2018
Grady explains that after being bombarded by exclusively caucasian focused artworks, reimagined by the Carters and their dancers throughout the video, we finally come to Benoist's painting—making it feel truly subversive:
...a black face in the center of the frame, apparently in control of her domain. And it’s one of the only figures in the Louvre that we don’t see get reinterpreted by either the Carters or their dancers: The only figure in the Louvre that can withstand the unstoppable force that is Beyoncé, that does not need to be remade and reexamined.
One thing's for sure, folks online have been going apeshit for it:
4) Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace, an Ancient Greek statue of the goddess of Victory. Beyoncé’s costuming mimics the folds of the statues drapery and positions her as Victory. She is clothed in white, imitating the statue’s current bleached state. pic.twitter.com/7tvexxCBbf— Queen Curly Fry (@itsmeheidi_h) June 17, 2018
This is the best thing to happen to art since Andy Warhol.— Sergio Cristóbal Mata (@sergiomata_art) June 19, 2018
And even though it's technically, The Carters they all want to hail the Queen Bey: