The Carters and the Louvre

Rewriting History with Art

Hi everybody!

In my last post introducing the purpose of this newsletter, I used the Carters’ song “Apeshit” as an example, but without going further. I didn’t want to drown you under too much information from the beginning because when we start talking about the Carters – i.e. Beyoncé and Jay-Z –  and their artistic work, there is a lot to say!

The video for “Apeshit” was mainly filmed in the Louvre museum, in Paris. By using a place symbolizing the occidental colonialism, the message of Jay-Z and Beyoncé seems pretty clear: it is all about their accomplishments as Afro American artists in the face of the western culture, built on white supremacy.

Going apeshit meaning going crazy, Beyoncé and Jay-Z break the conventional rules and present their success by showing off in one of the most important art institution in the world, but also create an interesting dialogue between them and majors art works that they carefully chose.

During the six minutes of the video, Beyoncé and Jay-Z construct a whole narration of the liberation of blackness through a dozen art works within the museum. Today, I choose to present you four of them.

Three icons reunited in one place

After few close shots situating the viewer in the Louvre, the worldwide famous museum in Paris, the artists appear side by side turning their back on Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.

This first depiction of the couple is really powerful. Usually, people go to the Louvre to see this masterpiece. Just as Mona Lisa, Jay-Z and Beyoncé can be seen as living icons of our society, and they affirm themselves as such by turning their back to it.

Majesty Queen B

One of the key artworks they use is The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine, by Jacques-Louis David which is a huge painting representing the moment Emperor Napoléon I crowns his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais. Dancing along with eight other dancers, Queen B places herself just under the Empress.

We could see this scene of blacks dancers below a royal painting as a denunciation of colonialism – Napoléon I being known to be an incessant conqueror– but we would forget that, although the Empress Joséphine was white, she was born and raised in Martinique, a French colony. From her mother’s side, Beyoncé has also some French creole roots, and as Joséphine and Napoléon before them, she and her husband worked hard to succeed. The difference between Joséphine and Beyoncé is that the last did not need a man to proclaim herself as the Queen.

Black People Leadership

For his verse, Jay-Z is standing in front of The Raft of Medusa. In this picture the painter, Théodore Géricault, depicted the moment when the people who survived the wreck see a boat that could save them. Géricault, who was against slavery, chose to paint a black man as the figurehead of this representation of hope.

More than Jay-Z himself, who is a successful singer and businessman, the black figure in the painting is used to affirm that, despite the suffering they had to go through, black people can also be leaders.

From slavery to freedom

The viewer has to wait almost until the end of the video to finally see a black person as the main subject of the image. Titled, Portrait of a Black Woman, the painting was realized in 1800 by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. This kind of depiction of a black woman was rare for this period. It is even more powerful that the artist was a woman. Finally, I would add that if in 1800 slavery had been abolished for six years, a law reestablished it in 1802. As Beyoncé says in the song, they “made it” but through a continuous fight for black people’s freedom over centuries.

The Carters used the Louvre to rewrite an history of black power through, and with art. From the beginning to the end of the video, the black figures initially relegated in the second, or even third foreground, progressively emerge from the shadows and conquer their own space.

If you want to read more about how this video is a ideologic statement with high aesthetic qualities, click on this link.

I see this newsletter as a space of sharing (since we can’t really talk right). So if you have any artist or song you’d like me to talk about, don’t hesitate to reach me out!!!