This Art History Grad's Response to Jay-Z and Beyoncé's Louvre Vid Is Everything

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words and the classic works of art included in "Apeshit" defs say a lot

If you thought art history was boring, prepared to be converted by the almighty Bey and Jay.

Delighting the world and seriously overshadowing Father’s Day (sorry, dad!), Beyoncé and Jay Z released their highly-anticipated joint album Everything is Love on June 16. America’s true royal couple announced the surprise album drop at the end of their show in London, England, during their On The Run II World Tour. The nine track album—released exclusively on Tidal (obvs) under the eponymous duo name The Carters—is seriously incredible, but what really got people talking was the video for their single “Apeshit,” the first visual off the album.

After the gift that was Lemonade, it’s no surprise that video for “Apeshit” is visually stunning—and not just because of Jay and Bey’s on-trend outfits. The entire 6-minute masterpiece was shot in the Louvre, meaning that the #flawless couple wasn’t the only piece of art on display. The video features The Carters and a myriad of gorgeous POC performers dancing in front of infamous pieces of art, in particular, standing defiantly in front of works like the “Mona Lisa” and “The Coronation of Napoleon”—i.e. Eurocentric art predominantly done by white, male artists. In doing so, this vid interjects Black bodies into a primarily white-dominated space. And that is BIG.

“Mona Lisa”

For those who didn’t catch all the references, art history grad Heidi Herrera broke down the powerful video in a 20-part tweet thread. “The visual and lyrical message of #Apeshit is that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have MADE IT,” she tweeted. “They own the motherf-cking 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.”

And in addition to Black bodies, the Beyoncé’s Louvre video specifically highlights—and empowers—Black female bodies. Throughout the video, Bey is frequently pictured in front of classic works of art, often overshadowing them. In the first shot of the The Carters, they’re pictured with the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci (i.e. the most recognizable portrait in the museum and arguably the world). Herrera interpreted this scene as a powerful statement. “Beyonce (and Jay-Z I guess) is visually asserting herself as Mona Lisa,” she says.

“Venus de Milo”

Later in the vid, Bey once again models herself after the “Venus de Milo” statue, but as Herrera notes, with slight alterations: wrapping her hair—a protective practice for many women of colour—and reframing the goddesses of beauty and victory as a Black woman, which “dismantles white-centric ideals of beauty.”

“The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine”

One of the most visually stunning images from the video is when Beyoncé joins forces with other women. Queen Bey links hands with her dancers, moving in-sync against the backdrop of “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine” by Jacques Louis David, and the iconic painting becomes merely a backdrop against their dancing bodies. Female bodies of colour in motion not only contrast the stagnant painting, but also defy the history of colonialism that it represents. As 20-year-old Herrera points out, Napoleon was *the worst* and was responsible for colonizing countries like Egypt and Syria. This painting, which Herrera explains highlights Napoleon’s “God-given right to rule,” is overpowered by Beyoncé and her girl gang—and imagery like that spoke to the art history grad on a personal level.

“I found [the video] to be absolutely compelling and very important to how we consider the history of art moving forward,” says Herrera, who graduated from Utah’s Brigham Young University. “As a woman and a person of colour it has often been hard for me to identify with certain periods of art because we have been so excluded from the western artistic canon. I think by engaging with these works in the “Apeshit” video Beyoncé has been able to add depth to the conversation about how we talk about and teach art history while also making it accessible and applicable to a modern day audience.”

And let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time the Carters have used their work to preach about the beauty (and absence) of Black bodies in art and society. In his 2011 collab album with Kanye West, Watch the Throne, Jay Z included a similar message in “That’s My B*tch” rapping: “But why all the pretty icons always white/Put some colored girls in the MoMA.” Looks like Bey and Jay are on the right track.

To summarize all the ways in which “Apeshit” is the epitome of #goals, Herrera tweeted, “Essentially, #Apeshit is not only a brilliant celebration of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s success but a self-aware acknowledgement of their success in the face of historical/current oppression as well as an expression of gratitude to their predecessors who are too often forgotten.” Now that’s the sort of art we can get behind.

This article was originally published on June 18, 2018.


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