Album Review: APESH*T: the Power of Images
by Hasina Kamanzi
On June 16th 2018, The Carters, a duo composed of the power couple Beyoncé and Jay Z, released the joint album Everything is Love as the final part of a trilogy including Beyonce’s Lemonade, and Jay-Z’s 4:44. The couple described this project as “public therapy,” meant to help the pair heal from the marital issues referenced in Lemonade and 4:44, such as cheating, distrust and forgiveness. Because of the ingenious use of technology, location and iconography, this album could also serve as therapy for all of us.
In the lead single APESH*T, we see Beyoncé and Jay Z celebrating their success in the Louvre… No, not the MoMA, not the Smithsonian, IN THE LOUVRE. That being said, the shot that grabbed my attention was the brief scene where we see one of the dancers combing the afro of an extra in front of the iconic Mona Lisa (yes, the real Mona Lisa). Incidentally, this scene is also the cover of the album.
The first thing I noticed in this scene is the complexion of the dancers. As the youth says, their melanin was poppin’! Undoubtedly, Beyonce and Jay-Z have embody the fact that the simple act of filming dark skin is an art onto itself. Indeed, color TV was created with the goal of benefiting white actors; in fact,, the first color-grading charts produced by Kodak were designed specifically for that purpose. Only recently has the filming industry started to study lighting and camera angles in relation to dark skin. This issue even came up in the making of the documentary Black Panther.(I swear to God, Black Panther IS a documentary, and I will fight everyone who says otherwise )
Beyond the colors, the location is the second thing that comes to mind when you see the shot. They filmed the scene in front of the Mona Lisa, which might very well be the most recognizable piece of art in the Western World. It is also a symbol of Eurocentric standards of beauty, for she is part of the research her painter, Leonardo Da Vinci, conducted to find the ideal proportions. Akin to what we see today in most Western media, Da Vinci’s definition of beauty categorically excluded Black people. However, in this scene, the portrait is blurred and placed in the background, meaning that in this very moment, we acknowledge the existence of this legacy but refuse to make it our focus. We refuse to accept that it is the epitome of beauty and present an alternative that centers around us.
Finally, the third element that caught my attention is the depiction of Black hair care. Traditionally, Black people have a strong tie to their hair and the way it is styled. Historically, it has served as a map for escaping slaves, a bonding activity for the community, a form of expression and a signifier of social status. Despite its versatility, hair caring has never been recognized as an art form. In the past, laws such as the Tignon Law, prohibited Black people from even showing their hair in public. Today, traditional Black hairstyles are not even taught in most hair formation, yet, Black beauticians are expected to attend these institutions in order to own their own. That is why it is so powerful to see a Black woman caring for extremely curly hair in the middle of a museum that has, by virtue of repeatedly depicting a certain type of hair, participated in the cornering of Black hair and Black hairstyles. With this scene, The Carters have effectively declared Black hair care to be an art. They decolonized the Louvre and told Black people that their creation is as – if not more – valuable than anything white artists have produced.
Multiple observers have noted that Mona Lisa, in her portrait, seems to be smirking, as if she was hiding a secret from her painter, Leonardo Da Vinci. Perhaps, she knew that one day, her portrait would be used to define the notion of ideal beauty. Perhaps, she knew that, in the end, technological biases, the hegemony of Western standards of beauty and the pigeon-holding of Black forms of expression would not stop Black beauty from shining.
About the writer
Even as a child, Hasina Kamanzi wanted to tell stories. Her parents recall that she was an incredibly loquacious daughter. She would question guests endlessly about their life and choices to later incorporate their answers into the stories she would tell to whoever would listen. Today, she lives in Ottawa/Gatineau and has graduated from oral storytelling to visual storytelling. She paints and draws the stories of her family, her friends and those of women she has never met before. She still writes articles from time to time. In short, Hasina gave herself the mission to share with her modest audience the stories of those who are often ignored. In parallel, she studies Civil Law at the University of Ottawa in the hopes of becoming a policy maker and using all the stories she collected ever since being a child, to create a legal landscape more inclusive of every Canadian.