Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” Art Follows A Tradition In Black Art

person with an american flag mask
Alyssa Guzik
May 2, 2024

Beyoncé's recent release got a lot of attention for its genre, but the images also matter. By remixing the American flag on her album cover, Beyoncé embodies the legacy of Black artists who refuse to conform to mainstream expectations.

In 1990, David Hammons combined the American flag and Marcus Garvey’s Black Liberation flag to create the African American flag. Hammons transformed the American flag into a statement on the struggles and resilience of Black Americans.

Through vivid and stark imagery, Faith Ringgold confronts viewers with the harsh realities of systemic oppression, discrimination, and inequality that plague our society in her American People Series (1963-1967). Each piece in the series holds up a mirror, forcing white-centering Americans to confront their prejudices.

Dread Scott's controversial “What Is The Proper Way To Display A U.S. Flag?” (1988) answered its own question: on the floor. This provocative piece and the outrage that it generated remind us that true patriotism requires speaking truth to power.

What is it with Beyonce and the flag?  From Gordon Parks’ “American Gothic” to Carlos Martiel's “Fundamento”  (2020), Black artists have long used the flag in creative ways to challenge societal norms and assert our identity within a system that often tries to silence us.

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