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From Venus to “Black Venus”: Beyoncé’s I Have Three Hearts, Fashion, and the Limits of Visual Culture

by Cheryl Thompson

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In 2016, Lemonade was lauded as “Black girl magic” for the ways the hour-long HBO special (and subsequent album) celebrated Black women and the Southern gothic tradition. It also was the first hint of Beyoncé paying homage to West African Yoruba traditions. At the 2017 Grammys, her performance was both an invocation of the sacred in Western art history and further homage to Yoruba. The performance opened with poetry by Warsan Shire and snapshots of her daughter, Blue Ivy, but the highlight was Beyoncé’s gold gown, crown, and accessories, all of which symbolized the African goddess Osun. Released just before her Grammys performance, the I Have Three Hearts photo-series circulated as pregnancy images (she was pregnant with twins), but it also functioned as a repository of Beyoncé’s invocation of the sacred in Western culture, as embodied in Venus, and the African goddess, often labelled as “Black Venus.” This article is an examination of three images in the I Have Three Hearts series, taken by Awol Erizku, and the series’ accompanying poetry by Shire. I argue that it raises important questions about the role of visual culture in fashion and popular culture. Is Beyoncé the Venus of the twenty-first century? Does this photographic series remap Western visual culture to reimagine Black womanhood in the discourse on sexuality? Or it is an example of pastiche in postmodern culture wherein truncated information is authorized, making everyone an expert without the demand for historical context?

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