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Beyoncé: More than a Performer

With Beyoncé’s most recent and outstanding performance at Coachella, I remembered Dr. DeFrantz speaking of dance as a performance, and particularly mentioned Beyoncé and her Formation music video. A few days later I stumbled upon an instagram post (and since then been unable to relocate it) mentioning an important scene in Beyoncé’s music video “Love Drought” which piqued my interest. In the video it shows Beyoncé with a line of black women uniformly walking behind her out into deeper water. The post also referred to this scene in the music video as a reference to the Igbo Landing story, and I remember the caption of the post saying something along the line’s of “How are we not taught this in history class????”

After researching this event  in The New Georgia Encyclopedia, I learned that the history behind Igbo Landing was when a group of about 75 slaves being transported across the Atlantic overtook their ship and proceeded to jump into the water and drown themselves rather than submit to a life of slavery near an island off the coast of Georgia. It was one of the largest mass suicides of slaves and an important event of slave resistance. So why weren’t we taught this in school? My guess would be because there was probably little written record of this event other than it being a loss of cargo at the time. As well as the first hand accounts were most likely limited to oral tradition mostly among the black coastal communities of Georgia.

This historical event has been locally been referred to as “The Myth of The Flying Africans.” Wallace Quarterman an African American living by the  Georgia coast told the story as “Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.

The end of Beyoncé’s music video shows her with white paint streaked down her face as if it were tears, and with her staring directly into the camera. A striking image, one that is not easily forgotten. Without knowing the history of Igbo Landing it would be simple to write off Beyoncé’s expression as nothing more than a blank face stare, but now knowing the history of Igbo Landing it appears as a face challenging me to perhaps dare to look away or dare to forgot the underlying message in her video.

One artist Donovan Nelson has captured the memory of Igbo Landing in his collection of charcoal on paper drawings. The similarities between Beyoncé’s music video and his drawing are abundantly clear. Both images are being portrayed with the subject almost a 45 degree angle to the shot frame, and with the subject placed in a straight ordered line.

 

Beyoncé’s is more than a performer who stands on a stage to deliver her fanbase her latest love song, she has been shining in her role as both a performer and activist for African Americans, as well as a symbol and reminder for black culture in America.

 

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