Earlier in the year, I visited Paris to hit all the museums and vegan spots the city has to offer. I blame the Eurostar holding a sale causing an impulse decision.
Visiting the Louvre was of course high on the agenda. But, the sheer scale of the museum was overwhelming. How could I even begin?
Beyonce’s music video had come out a few months previous, filmed at the Louvre, as a nod to the white supremacy in art and culture that plagues museums. The Louvre responded by creating an audiotour of the museum that focussed on the pieces Beyonce chose to film in front of – all encapsulating these themes. As someone who doesn’t speak French, I improvised and planned my visit to the museum to follow the route.
I’m not the target audience for most ‘trails’ of museums, they’re mostly aimed at families – a way to make a museum more digestible for younger audiences. For that reason I rarely follow them (aside from an amazing LGBTQ+ tour of Brighton Museum last year). But, after creating my own ‘trail’ of the Louvre, my mind is changed.
After reading a few articles online, and the guide on the Louvre’s website, about what pieces the music video spotlight, I picked a few to go and see. High on my list was the Portrait of a Black Woman by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. As written on the website, the artist “took a bold stance with this dark-skinned figure—an unusual, rarely taught exercise that was held in low regard. The grave expression, calm pose and bare breast give the anonymous model the nobility of an allegory—perhaps of slavery, recently abolished”. The the Portrait of a Black Woman is an important piece to be featured in the music video. Critiquing the art-worlds bias towards white men, spotlighting the Portrait of a Black Woman (which is interestingly very much tucked away, it took me quite some time to find), the bias is glaringly apparent. Likewise, seeing the Mona Lisa was inevitably a spotlight for any Parisian tourism. The Mona Lisa, in both the music video and album artwork, is background (literally blurred) behind a common and intimate part of blackness – hair braiding.
The impact of two black people owning the Louvre for the filming of a music video is unprecedented and an important reminder of the white privilege that has haunted, and continues to haunt, museums and art galleries. The Louvre self-critiquing this historical and current bias in such a high-profile and mainstream way is brave, but influential. I hope more museums and galleries continue to do the same.
Following a ‘trail’ of a museum in this way was an illuminating experience. Having rarely followed a trail in this way, I thought they weren’t ‘for me’. But, after following the Apeshit Trail, my mind is indeed changed. Trails instruct a focus, and in a museum on the sheer overwhelming scale of the Louvre, this is somewhat needed. The Apeshit trail instructs that focus to be of critique – enjoying the beauty of the artworks no doubt, but also reflecting on the white supremacy that is such a norm that it can go unnoticed. Also, it was really fun.