Fashion and Art in The Carters’ ‘APESHIT’

On June 16th, fifty thousand people witnessed the debut of ‘APESHIT’ on an LED screen at the London Stadium as a part of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s ‘On the Run II Tour’.

Since that first viewing, the implications and significance of its visuals seem to multiply with each watch. Famously filmed in the Louvre, much critical attention has been directed towards the classical Western paintings. However, much less attention has been paid towards the relationship between fashion and art in the music video. Each outfit is designed to emulate and personify a certain painting so that these two black icons of pop culture insert themselves into the Louvre’s Eurocentric and white art tradition. Granted this transformative power, fashion is elevated to the level of art and the highest culture.

The video famously opens and closes with the pair in Peter Pilotto pastel suits, hand-in-hand and standing in front of the ‘Mona Lisa’ (1503). This first shot encapsulates the essence of the music video. The mint green of Jay-Z’s suit draws out the same shade in the painting’s frame enclosure; and on a larger scale, the edges of the wall itself are cast in a mint and pink light. In this way, The Carters take on the significance of arguably the world’s most famous painting, but assert their own contemporary influence upon the work with the lighting display. The off-centred positioning of the couple also has significance; it visualises the destabilisation of Eurocentric art history which the Carters themselves embody.

“Granted this transformative power, fashion is elevated to the level of the art and the highest culture.”

Jacque-Louis David’s ‘The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine’ (c.1807) is brought to life by Beyoncé’s Burberry leggings and bra two-piece, complemented by the Yeezy-esque skin-tight, skin-coloured clothing of her dancers. The spectrum of skin tones effectively embodies the light and dark shading which gives David’s work its dimension. But in doing so, it emphasises that the painting is one populated by white aristocrats, reminding us that black people were not seen as worthy subjects in fine art.

In this context, Rolling Stone‘s Elias Leight claims that the hypnotic dance choreography of this all-black cast renders David’s painting mere wallpaper. What’s more, the red accent of the signature Burberry check draws parallels with the red capes and gowns worn by the elite in Beyoncé’s backdrop. APESHIT signifies the beginnings of a new art form: one which celebrates the beauty of all cultures and races, and one which has the Carters at the helm.

The sculpture of Nike, Goddess of Victory, in ‘The Winged Victory of Samothrace’ (c.190 BC) is both powerful in her positioning at a literal ship’s helm, but demure in her poise and delicately draped clothing. This duality is captured through the contrast of the flowing simplicity of Beyoncé’s Stephane Rolland gown and the harsh lines which her Alexis Mabille cape draw on top. But Beyoncé tears her ensemble down as she thrashes around below the sculpture. As she does this, she tears down the elitist art tradition which The Winged Victory symbolises. Although it may not be the naval victory the sculpture depicts, APESHIT is a cultural and aesthetic victory in its own right.

 Marie Benoist’s ‘Portrait d’une négresse’ (1800)  Image credit

Marie Benoist’s ‘Portrait d’une négresse’ (1800)
Image credit

In another scene the Carters sit alone, cast in the spotlight against a darkened Grand Gallery of indistinguishable paintings. With her Versace head-wrap and the draping of her matching gown, Beyoncé pays homage to Marie Benoist’s ‘Portrait d’une négresse’ (1800) – one of the only pre-twentieth century portraits with a black subject. If the effect of the continual juxtaposition of European art with the all-black cast of APESHIT has been lost on the watcher, it becomes evident in this shot. The dimmed paintings signify the exclusion of black subjects in the European tradition, but the power shift is at the heart of the shot, and the entire video itself. The story told by these visuals is a magnificent one and it cannot have been told without its fashion. The Carters situate themselves – and with them, black subjects – at the forefront of today’s art, reclaiming and reshaping art history.

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Style, MusicQifei Zou