Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s ‘Apes**t’ Was a Subtle History Lesson in Race and Power
The Carters weren’t just flexing by shooting their latest music video in the world’s largest art museum
In the first music video from their collaborative album, Everything Is Love, Beyoncé and Jay-Z completely take over the Louvre. Long lines, security guards, and rope barriers be damned, the Carters swagger, strut, and pose their way through the the world’s most visited museum and the world-famous high temple of European fine art.
Setting “Apeshit” in the Louvre is more than just a flex: It’s a dramatic expansion of the type of culture normally presented in this elite space, one where people of color have long felt excluded, unwelcome, and unrepresented. But the Louvre itself was first established in a similar act of radical inclusion. Originally the official residence of the French kings, the Louvre became one site of the royal art collection after Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King) moved the court to Versailles in 1682. For most of the eighteenth century, public access to art galleries was extremely limited, subject to the whims of the princes and royal societies who owned the artwork. But in 1793, on the first anniversary of the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the Republic, the Louvre was declared a state museum, property of the people and freely accessible to all, without charge — a new, democratic institution for the new age.
Much of the video’s symbolic power stems from this juxtaposition of the Carters performing in such a traditional bastion of white (male) European culture. The camera lingers over the few Black figures in the collection — the dark-skinned servants in Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, the Black sailor in Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, the nameless subject of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait d’une Négresse (Portrait of a Negro Woman) — underscoring the overwhelming whiteness of the museum’s collection.