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I Have Three Hearts: On Beyonce

Beyonce is a woman who works. She’s an incredible singer. She’s got that amazing body, clearly earned by plenty of gym time and green juices. She’s a fashion icon. She’s got a relatively successful marriage, and enough personal clout to write a whole album about the bumps in that road. She never shrugs it off as “oh, this old thing?” She owns how hard she works. She talks about it. She makes sure we know: the chorus of “Formation” goes “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it.” That is not a declaration I could make, personally.

We have different approaches to life, right? And Beyonce’s approach is pretty clearly the winner, given that she’s, you know, Beyonce, and I’m you know, hanging out with my baby while I poop. It can be hard to identify with a demi-goddess. What do we have in common? She lives a jet-set lifestyle with a hip-hop mogul and parties with Obamas; I live an Oregon Trail lifestyle (and let’s not kid ourselves: I’m talking about the computer game, not the actual westward settler adventure), with a plastic baby karaoke machine that gives me the creeps, and I party by knitting and listening to podcasts, alone.

Which brings me to the pregnancy photos. Or, I’m sorry, that should be THE PREGNANCY PHOTOS. In case you haven’t heard, Beyonce is pregnant with twins—actual twins! This rivals the Brangelina twins as the most clamorous twins in history. It goes Castor and Pollux, Mary-Kate and Ashley, and the babies that are currently residing inside Queen Bey.

She announced her pregnancy on February 1—the first day of Black History Month—with an image of her, kneeling in front of an elaborate spray of roses, clad only in her underwear and a green (?) veil, cupping her belly and gazing right at us. “Look at me,” the photo says. “I am fucking doing this like you’ve never seen before.” Naturally, the internet burst into flames.

Straight off the bat, it was the clear that the photo wasn’t just about the pregnancy. Last time Beyonce told the world she was pregnant was six years ago, at the 2011 VMAs, when she whipped open her jacket to reveal a bump that some douchebags speculated was a fake. That was a different Beyonce: she had only recently taken over management of her career, she was still best-known for songs like “Single Ladies” and “Crazy in Love.” This was before she started sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and walking the red carpet with the mothers of young black men who had been murdered by police. This was before Lemonade, before performing “Formation” at the Super Bowl.

This time around, Beyonce has made a point of centering her blackness, her femaleness, her status as an icon. It is total: poses that mirror Botticelli’s Venus, clothing that echoes Yoruba deity Oshun (the orisha of fertility!), accessories like Nefertiti’s bust, and colours that reference Byzantine portraits of the Madonna. It’s layered, it’s complicated, and it’s so femme and powerful that I nearly ruptured a thumb vein liking it on Instagram.

And by god, the photos are just gorgeous. There are two main visual motifs – one underwater and fluid, the others posed and classical. The posed set include elaborate floral displays, her daughter Blue Ivy, flowing locks, and bright, flat backgrounds; the underwater set are more luscious and fluid, evoking a space between worlds, and a powerful, encompassing womb. Colour and posture are both key throughout: bright yellow dominates the photos, sometimes as flowing fabrics, other times as the background. She poses like the Madonna, like Venus, like a classical painter’s version of the ur-woman, but she also surrounds herself with images of female power: her daughter, the aforementioned Nefertiti, dozens of flowers, hew own hair. In the water, she floats next to the surface, but the images are flipped, so she looks upside down, and deeper than she really is. Her eyes are open and looking straight into the camera.

We should pay no mind to Dennis Geronimus, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History at New York University, who was quoted by Bazaar.com as saying, “Who can say if all of these references are entirely intentional, but Beyoncé and her photographer do seem to know their art history!” What a dickish thing to say, Geronimus. Just because it’s pop doesn’t mean it’s not intentional, or deliberate, or even global. What the art historians quoted on both Bazaar.com and Pitchfork’s review of the series gloss over the is the elevated, historical, intentional blackness of the whole shoot. They give equal weight to Ewol Erizku, the creator and director of the series, as they give to Koontz and Kahlo and Titian, who were probably influential but not, you know, authorial in the creation of the set. It’s deeply irritating.

Pregnancy announcements are a weird thing. Do you send a card? Can you do it by text? We told our closest people in person and then the rest of the world via Instagram. Other friends have called, or let it spread through the grapevine. I loved showing off my bump (less so the saggy belly that it begat, but whatevs), and I took a million photos of its progression over the three trimesters. Women all over the world do the same. But rarely do we take it to such art-directed heights, and frankly, maybe we should. I love Beyonce’s position—her insistence—that her black, pregnant body is historical, beautiful, and worth looking at through an artist’s lens. She works it, like she does everything else.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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More about Kaitlyn Kochany

Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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