Beyoncé and Jay Z in the APESHIT music video
Beyoncé and Jay Z in the Apeshit music video (Photo: Ricky Saiz)

MUSIC

Apeshit has sparked an overdue conversation about blackness in art institutions

Beyoncé and Jay Z’s first single from their new album has already been heralded as a potential marketing tool for largely white art museums

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By Kuba Shand-Baptiste on

There’s a lot that can be said about Everything Is Love, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s latest highly anticipated joint project and fans have wasted no time in sharing conspiracy theories and wild analyses about the power couple’s latest effort since it dropped on Saturday evening. But perhaps the most interesting observation to have emerged over the last few days came from Black Blossoms, a platform dedicated to amplifying black womanhood in the art world.   

Offering their own astute observations on Apeshit, the first single from the album, Black Blossoms tweeted about the video’s capacity to dramatically shift museums’ marketing approach towards the black community.

In a tweet accompanied by a screenshot from the video, in which the couple sit stoically before Jacque Louis David’s The Intervention of the Sabine Women, Black Blossoms said:

“Beyoncé is helping museums increase their Black Audiences... any smart person in museum marketing team would see the opp and act quickly and correctly... #APESHIT”

Examine the video closely – which, in keeping with the couple’s iconic status, was filmed in the Louvre, an institution that boasts an overwhelmingly white art collection – and it’s easy to see their point. From the off, shots of Beyoncé, Jay Z and the rest of the entirely black cast of dancers from the Ricky Saiz-directed video serve as responses to well-known pieces in the art canon.

Almost obstructing the famous works behind them, kneeling, swaying and smiling in the process, black bodies directly challenge the limited portrayals of blackness that we’re used to seeing in museums and force us to take in an entirely new narrative, one that shies away from respectability and fosters an (often intensely capitalist) sense of the many virtues of blackness.

There is no reason why pop culture shouldn’t serve as a vehicle for bringing more black people into the fold when it comes to museums

In a clear challenge to celebrations of colonial rule and wealth, for example, we see a shot of a defiant Beyoncé dancing in formation against the backdrop of Jacques Louis David’s extravagant painting, The Coronation Of Napoleon. Here, Napoleon’s legacy and, by extension, David’s art is forced to take a backseat, making way instead for an indisputably black celebration of womanhood and Beyoncé’s own lavishness in the process. And with a nod to one of the most consistent themes of the album – black love – there are also shots of black couples embracing, as well as modern takes on Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of a Negress, the only painting in the video that doesn’t depict a black subject as a slave.

Screenshot from Apeshit video


With the usual meticulous precision that fans are used to seeing in projects from the duo, Beyoncé and Jay Z have, as Black Blossoms observed, carved their own artistic standards as black artists, rather than playing into definitions of success as outlined by the white status quo.

Conversations about the lack of inclusion in art museums have long raged on, inspiring important, but typically short-lived, appeals to black people every once in a while. But rarely, as Black Blossoms said, do they extend beyond one-off lates and exhibitions.

In a 2015/16 study of adults visiting museums in the UK, for example, black people were the least likely to have visited a museum in the past year, compared with white and Asian visitors. And, when collections do not focus solely on European art, curators of African art in larger institutions are typically white.

Have you ever seen the crowd goin' apeshit? – Why museums need to encourage dialogue in gallery spaces and not just at lates because silence is more [intimidating] than the audience going ‘apeshit’ over an exhibition that touches their soul,” Black Blossoms´ tweeted.

And they’re right. Just as Beyoncé and Jay Z have demonstrated, there is no reason why pop culture shouldn’t serve as a vehicle for bringing more black people into the fold when it comes to museums. By occupying what looks like the entirety of the Louvre, Beyoncé and Jay Z have made a clear a statement as any about the importance of taking up space in typically white institutions – institutions that, evidently, could learn a thing or two from them.

@kubared

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Beyoncé and Jay Z in the Apeshit music video (Photo: Ricky Saiz)
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Beyonce
Visual Art
Diversity
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