Smashing Windows: Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Intersectional Feminism, and Black Empowerment

Never shy about her political stance, Beyonce openly endorsed candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, making clear her belief that the future is female. Her album Lemonade, which Beyoncé produced the same year and complemented with powerful video content, illustrates her feminist stance through explicitly political, but also personal references.

One of the most memorable scenes from Lemonade is the second song Hold Up.  Here, Beyoncé elegantly steps out of a neoclassical building followed by an overflowing mass of water. Then, she jubilantly leaps onto a street, where she takes a baseball bat away from a child and begins to smash the windows of the cars parked on the side of the street. This unexpected twist of tone departs from the innocent ecstasy evoked in the first scene reminds me of Pipilotti Rist’s 1997 video work Ever is Over All. Here, a woman in a blue dress gleefully walks down a street before,  all of a sudden, starting to smash cars’ windows with a long flower stem.

Left: Still from Rist, “Ever is Over All,” 1997; Right: Still from Beyonce, “Lemonade,” 2016.

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Performing Intimacy: Lee Mingwei’s Sonic Blossom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A soprano’s voice echoes through the museum’s quiet halls. Inside the Metropolitan’s main gallery for contemporary art, the singer stands before a large, rapt audience but performs only for one. Moments earlier, she approached an unsuspecting viewer with an offer of the “gift of song”; now accepted, the soprano delivers a moving rendition of a Franz Schubert lied—a short operatic solo derived from German poetry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries—to the chosen visitor seated several yards away. In deference to the intimacy of the performance, onlookers quietly move towards the periphery of the gallery. The visitor, seemingly lost in the soprano’s stirring song, begins to cry. After three brief minutes the lied ends and the palpable bond between performer and visitor is broken. What remains, however, is the memory of an experience that transcended mere recital or performance art to strive for something deeper and more consequential: a meaningful, if fleeting, moment of communion between strangers.

Sonic Blossom performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ® Julia Cervantes for The New York Times, 2015
Sonic Blossom performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ® Julia Cervantes for The New York Times, 2015

Organized through the Metropolitan Museum’s Concerts and Lecture series, this brief exchange was one of many—each incorporating new vocalists, audiences and one of five different lieder—enacted over the course of ten days in November 2015 as part of Lee Mingwei’s performance art piece Sonic Blossom. The work has been presented several times before, including at museums in Korea, Japan, China, Singapore and, most recently, in the United States at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Yet it strikes a particular cord in New York, a city known for its skepticism, impatience and toughness. New Yorkers have learned from experience to be wary of those approaching them wearing odd clothing with promises of ‘gifts’. Staged elsewhere in Manhattan, say in a local park or subway terminal, the performer would have been met with considerable distrust. But in the cultural setting of the Metropolitan, the only museum in the city to house both a fine art and musical instrument collection, visitors are primed for just this kind of unusual artistic behavior.

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