The Carters, that is Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z, havejust released a video titled ‘Apeshit’ in ironic reference to their skin colour. In that video they appear making discretional use of the colonially charged corridors of the Musée du Louvre in Paris which shows how political their discourse has become to the point of occupying the cultural space that the Obamas appear to occupy in the political sphere. Directed by Ricky Saiz, who had previously worked with Beyoncé in her ‘Yoncé’ video, ‘Apeshit’ does not hide its decolonialising message which, however, in order to be effective must showcase both superstars as monumental actualisations of those works of arts of the past. Their individual success, however, depends on that perpetuation of a ‘civilised barbarianism’ and their music functions as a way of relieving the tensions that that colonial system creates. Aren’t they functional to a system that keeps all of us in a state of perpetual adolescence when it comes to colonialism?
In the video, Beyoncé and Jay Z appear dancing in front of specifically curated French works of art, mostly from the Napoleonic era which hang in the corridors of a museum built upon the imposition of an idea of civilisation which was, in fact, fuelled by slavery. But that barbarianism is not so far away if we take into account, as a tweet posted by the H.M.Treasury last February 9th that the British tax payer (black or white) has been paying, until 2015, the interests of a loan of 15 million pounds (300 billion in today’s money) negotiated in 1835 by the British Government with Nathan Rothschild and his brother in law, Moses Montefiore to compensate the owners of the slaves after the decision to abolish slavery. In other words, not a penny went for those who actually suffer those crimes. Instead, the British Government acknowledged those freed slaves as former financial assets of a group of owners. Differently from everything said until today, the abolition of slavery was not a human rights affair but a commercial one. Even worse, the British public only knew about this because of a ‘Fredom of Information Act’ solicitude which forced government to release that information in the aforementioned tweet which, soon after, was deleted showing the institutionalised racism and selective amnesia prevailing in the British establishment these days. Of course, this is what happens when minorities are poorly represented in institutions. British selective memory is a direct consequence of this.
But what does Beyonce at the Louvre have to do with all this. Well, when Beyonce moves her hips in front of Jacques Louis David’s ‘Oath of the Horatiis’ which is a clear example of how French civilisation transformed a slave owning society like the Roman into a model of virtue in times when the French, in colonial times, were behaving in a similar way, what is she really trying to say. When she moves to Gericault, David’s aesthetisation of barbarianism gets more selfconscious with Gericault’s depictions of lunatics, hesitant cavalry men and, of course, with his ‘Raft of the Medusa’ as a historical document of racist and classist French barbarianism in front of which both Beyonce and Jay Z decide to stand. But what about them? The problem with their celebrity status is that they are a direct consequence of the perpetuation of that system which treats them as an exception to the rule. Is it possible to speak of decolonialisation in a capitalist system that pushes individuals to get inmorally richer (as is the case of both stars)? In fact they are making all this for money. Another question is who does this exorcism of sorts truly benefit? I am saying this because there is, of course, the danger of swapping Jacques Louis David’s aesthetisation of barbarianism for a new, more subtle and politically correct one, that makes everybody feel less guilty without, actually, doing anything about it. Can political realism go hand in hand with fashion? Is the fact that it takes place in a museum in which they were allowed to dance almost naked proof that those issues belong to the past when, as I showed in the British case, are more brutal than we thought they were if we bear in mind that the descendants of the slaves have been forced to pay for the Rothschild loan without even being told they were doing so?