Culture  /  Art History

Blackening the Louvre Museum

Beyoncé, Jay Z, and the legacies of slavery.

The video of the song Apes**t  by Beyoncé and Jay Z revives the conversation about slavery and its legacies. The song is part of the couple’s new joint album as the Carters. Far from the United States, the Carters occupied the Louvre Museum, one of the most important art museums in the world and greatest symbol of high white culture, to address the persisting heritage of the Atlantic slave trade.

The stage of Apes**t was carefully selected. The Louvre Museum was created at the end of the eighteenth century during the summit of the Atlantic slave trade. This was also a troubling period in France’s history. The French Revolution swept the monarchy, spreading change across the Atlantic world.

Conceived to house French royal collections, the Louvre displayed paintings produced by European artists. Upon its inception, its visitors were French elite members. Its walls only displayed the works of selected prominent artists. Very few black subjects are portrayed in the paintings hang on the Louvre’s walls. Obviously, still today black artists rarely have their works exhibited in the Louvre. Apes**ts‘svideo puts this system upside down. Appropriating the iconic western museum, the video is in dialogue with the acclaimed scene of Marvel’s film Black Panther, when Killmonger reclaims a Wakanda’s artifact on display in a fictive major western museum. Intentionally or not (it doesn’t matter), through the work of the video director, Beyoncé and Jay Z give a wink to the actions led by the movement Decolonize this Place.

The opening scene of Apes**t shows the Carters posing with one of the greatest icons of Western art, Leonardo da Vinci’s Monalisa (1503). In reality, no ordinary visitor to the Louvre can stand alone in front of this painting, always surrounded by crowds of hunger tourists pointing their smartphone cameras to capture the best image. Beyoncé and Jay Z are the privileged viewers in this setting, a position confirmed in the lyrics of the song: “I can’t believe we made it, This is what we’re thankful for.”