Beyonce’s Full Maternity Photo Album Is a Crash Course in Art History
Yesterday Beyonce gave us all a gift in these dark times and announced that she was pregnant with not one but *two* future adorable celebrity babies. She made the announcement on her Instagram account, and then she followed it up by unveiling a full maternity photoshoot, and it’s amazing and gorgeous and a little bit bonkers, but totally fantastic.
The entire shoot is part of an album called “I Have Three Hearts,” and it is posted on Beyonce’s website. It’s a compilation of photos of Beyonce now interspersed with photos of Beyonce pregnant with Blue Ivy in 2011 and photos of Beyonce’s mother, Tina, when she was pregnant with Beyonce, and Beyonce’s grandmother with a toddler-sized Tina. There is also some poetry:
mother is a cocoon where
cells spark, limbs form, mother
swells and stretches to protect her
child, mother has one foot in this world
and one foot in the next,
mother, black venus
There is a lot more poem where that came from, too. Beyonce muses on her connection to her own mother, grandmother, and children, and what it feels like to be transformed and reborn through love, pregnancy, and motherhood.
The “Venus” theme is clear in Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement photo, and in the rest of the series she released this morning. The hair and pose are distinctly reminiscent of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and the veil and saturated colors give a distinct Virgin Mary quality recognizable to anybody who ever spent any amount of time in Catholic school.
One of the things that gets me about this series is the feeling that everything is slightly off-kilter. The selvedge on the edge of her sheer veil and the visible fakeness of the flowers in the first photo almost seem like accidents–like the sort of things that might happen if your random cousin Nancy got a Craigslist photographer and decided to get high-concept with her Facebook pregnancy announcement.
But Beyonce is not cousin Nancy. She understands image as well as anybody; and nothing about this was an accident.
In this one, she has the famous Venus hair and pose, with a bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti beside her.
Beyonce is arguably the biggest star in the entire world. If she wanted a traditional maternity photoshoot, she could have had Anne Geddes in her house in an hour. If she wanted high fashion or celebrity, Steven Meisel and Annie Leibovitz would have dropped whatever they were doing and split an Uber to her house if she had asked them to. If Beyonce had wanted the flowers behind her to look real, she could have called the florist who made that wall of roses for Kim Kardashian. If Beyonce’s photos look like this, and her flowers look fake and her background looks just a little bit too blue, it’s because she wanted them to.
The backdrop in this photo isn’t visible because Beyonce doesn’t know how to crop a photo, it’s because this is the photo she wanted, including the part where you see the fake backdrop and the beaten-up old car are placed in front of an exceedingly beautiful mansion. Hell, Beyonce did not own that car! That car was brought her to be a photo prop instead of using one of Beyonce’s own luxury cars.
The whole series is amazing in an “I can’t look away from it, I’m going to be picking it apart for references and meaning for the rest of my life” sort of way. Someday somebody is going to write a whole Ph.D. thesis on these photos and what they say about motherhood, beauty, race, womanhood, religion, history, class, money, celebrity, and just about Beyonce herself.
The whole series, including the family photos and poetry, is posted on Beyonce’s website, and there is a lot of it. Beyonce sure knows how to drop an album. I can’t wait to see what she does when the babies are born.