Queen Bey's Pregnancy Photo

 via www.instagram.com/p/BP-rXUGBPJa/?taken-by=beyonce

via www.instagram.com/p/BP-rXUGBPJa/?taken-by=beyonce

I've been discussing this photo of Beyoncé by Awol Erizku in some photography groups on Facebook but wanted to share my thoughts here as well.

A lot of people are talking about this photo (right) of Bey kneeling in front of a flower backdrop with a green tulle veil. I'll be honest... my initial (and admittedly very superficial) impression was not exactly, "I love it!". It didn't take long, though, for it to suck me in and make me start thinking critically. The more I looked at the photo, the more compelling I found it, especially against the political and social backdrop the US right now (including, but not limited to, the level of racism permeating the White House and #BlackLivesMatter).

The religious imagery is obvious and alludes to altars and icons of Mother Mary/Virgen de Guadalupe (below middle). I love this association, and it's one that was also made when she was pregnant with Blue Ivy (below left).  Historically, Black Madonnas have been portrayed wearing red, blue, and white, with gold trim/fringes/accents (below right), and the Virgen de Guadalupe is also commonly portrayed wearing red with a blue or green head covering. This would speaks to why Bey is wearing a red bra with blue bottoms. It should also be noted that Bey was born in Houston, Texas, where there is a large Hispanic and Latino population, so drawing on imagery of the Virgen de Guadalupe is fitting.

  Beyonce and Blue Ivy as  Anton Raphael Mengs' “Madonna and Child With Two Angels” via  carterfamilyportraits.tumblr.com

Beyonce and Blue Ivy as Anton Raphael Mengs' “Madonna and Child With Two Angels” via carterfamilyportraits.tumblr.com

 Virgen de Guadalupe altar in Mexico via http://travelingwithanimo.blogspot.ca/2011_11_01_archive.html

Virgen de Guadalupe altar in Mexico via http://travelingwithanimo.blogspot.ca/2011_11_01_archive.html

 Black Madonna of Częstochowa in the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland

Black Madonna of Częstochowa in the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland

Kehinde Wiley's art comes to mind when I look at this photo; he paints Black people in poses based on work by Renaissance masters and I had the pleasure of being introduced to his paintings at an art gallery in Arizona. He has said that his work "quote[s] historical sources and position[s] young black men within that field of power.” I think he does a similar thing with putting Black bodies into Euro-centric (generally white) space. In his case it might be painting a Black man posed after Andrea Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ in The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (see images below) while in Beyoncé's case it's Erizku portraying her as the usually-represented-as-white Virgin Mary. 

  The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ   by Kehinde Wiley (left) based on   Lamentation of Christ   by Andrea Mantegna (right)

The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ by Kehinde Wiley (left) based on Lamentation of Christ by Andrea Mantegna (right)

As I was reading up about Erizku, I learned that his first solo show was actually a series of portraits that placed Black people in classic art pieces (see images below), which is interesting given that this piece made me think of Wiley's work. Speaking of what motivates his work, he has said, "There are not that many colored people in the galleries that I went to [growing up] or the museums that I went to. I was just like, when I become an artist I have to put my two cents in this world."

   Girl With a Bamboo Earring    by Awol Erizku (left) based on   Johannes Vermeer's   Girl With a Pearl Earring  (right)

Girl With a Bamboo Earring by Awol Erizku (left) based on Johannes Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring (right)

I think that the very fact that this is a photo of and released by Bey (and given the recent release of Lemonade), the discussion should automatically steer toward analysis through a social lens with a specific focus on Black womanhood, empowerment, and pride. That they announced their pregnancy with this image on the first day of Black History Month is can't be overlooked. The celebration of Black women and Black motherhood as sacred is beautiful and subversive at the same time, as is the presentation of Black babies as future saviours and leaders of humanity/the world, and Erizku's photo of Beyoncé depicts all of this perfectly.