Show on slavery prompts artist to quit Montreal fest
PARIS, July 4, (AFP): The Louvre has dedicated a new art tour to Beyonce and Jay-Z after pop’s biggest power couple shot the video for their latest hit in the Paris museum.
The R’n’B stars’ hit song “Ape…” — which used some of the museum’s greatest masterpieces as backdrops — has been viewed 56 million times on YouTube alone since it was released a fortnight ago.
Now the Louvre, which already has a tour based on the US rapper will.i.am’s hit “Smile Mona Lisa”, has created another based on the Carters’ night in the museum.
It follows the video through 17 paintings and sculptures which feature in the six-minute clip, going from the monumental white Greek marble “Nike of Samothrace” to Marie Benoist’s “Portrait of a Negress”.
The choice of works which they used or posed in front of has been taken as a celebration of black bodies and empowerment in an institution which was built on the spoils of conquest and imperialism.
“Portrait of a Negress” was painted in 1800, six years after revolutionary France had abolished slavery in its Caribbean colonies only for Napoleon to reinstate it two years later.
But perhaps the most striking image is of Beyonce at the centre of a line of black dancers in front of David’s “The Coronation of Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Josephine” singing, “I can’t believe we made it.”
The song is part of their surprise joint album, “Everything is Love” — their first — which they released under their real family name, The Carters.
It is a celebration of African-American identity and their marriage, whose problems and Jay-Z’s infidelity Beyonce detailed in her 2016 album “Lemonade”.
The guide describes in detail each artwork in the video but stops short of explaining what it is used to signify in the video.
But Professor James Smalls, of the University of Maryland, described the video — directed by Ricky Saiz, who also made the Beyonce clip “Yonce” — as “arresting… I would even go so far as to say brilliant.”
He argued that it “appropriates, exploits, and reinterprets Western paintings and sculptures as a way to chart and celebrate the Carters’ success, and black bodies in an artistic canon inextricably linked to histories of colonialism.
“The video is an unapologetic visual and sonic manifesto about spaces, power, and control,” he wrote in Frieze magazine.
“It is all about bodies — an orchestrated contrast of energetically writhing and animated black physiques set against frozen white forms of the past.”
The Louvre has refused to say how much the couple paid to shoot their video in front of the “Mona Lisa”, the “Venus de Milo” and Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”, in which Jay-Z poses looking up at the muscled black hero at the apex of the canvas.
The Louvre’s director Jean-Luc Martinez has said that he wants to make the museum’s vast collection “more readable” for a wide, global public.
Last year more than two-thirds of its 8.1 million visitors were foreigners, half of whom were under 30.
OTTAWA, Ontario: American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney canceled his Tuesday night performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, protesting the event’s ties to a show on slavery performed by whites.
The black entertainer criticized the festival for supporting “SLAV,” a theatrical production on black slavery that he said constitutes cultural appropriation. Instead of performing at the festival, he played two back-to-back shows Tuesday night at a Montreal club venue.
“SLAV,” directed by Robert Lepage and starring Betty Bonifassi, sparked protests in Montreal last week, with its critics arguing it appropriates black culture. In the production, the predominantly white cast dresses as cotton pickers and poor field workers and sings old slave songs.
“Their songs are taken from them by white people and performed to rooms full of other white people for high ticket prices,” Sumney wrote in a letter to festival organizers that he also published on his Tumblr blog. “I much would have preferred seeing actual black Americans sing their own slave songs.”
Bonifassi told the Montreal Gazette last week that she didn’t “feel badly at all” about the production. “I don’t see color. To me, it doesn’t exist, physically or in music,” she said.
In his letter to the festival, Sumney criticized Bonifassi’s comments, saying that “the solution to racism is not to erase race altogether.”
He also compared “SLAV” to blackface minstrel shows. “The only thing missing is black paint,” he wrote.
When contacted by The Associated Press, the jazz festival’s media relations director, Greg Kitzler, said, “We respect his decision and hope Moses Sumney will perform at the festival in a near future.”
Kitzler declined to comment on whether the festival would continue supporting “SLAV,” but added that a press release planned for Wednesday would offer clarification.
The play is scheduled to run until July 14 as part of the festival’s 39th edition. Thousands of musical acts have performed at the fest over the years, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Diana Ross.