Beyoncé shocked the world last week with the announcement that she and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, were pregnant for a second time. And if the sight of Bey’s baby bump wasn’t exciting enough, she also disclosed that her family would be growing by two this time. That’s right: Beyoncé is pregnant with twins.
The unexpected announcement came via Instagram, as she posted a beautiful pregnancy photo that has now topped the world record for most Instagram likes. The photo shows Beyoncé kneeling in front of a brightly colored bouquet, holding her belly. She is nearly nude, with silk underwear and a veil draped over her head.
This striking photo was just the first in a series that was released the next day. The shots are incredibly dreamy and ethereal, yet strong—a gorgeous portrayal of motherhood. So, who is the mastermind that Beyoncé chose to capture her growing family so artfully?
The photographer behind the images is Awol Erizku, a Yale graduate who was born in Ethiopia, raised in the Bronx and is currently based in Los Angeles. He is primarily a photographer, but also works with sculpture, music and film.
His work has been shown in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, but he’s also established a presence in the entertainment industry by collaborating with rapper ASAP Rocky and by photographing actress Viola Davis for The New Yorker.
Erizku’s work has always been deeply tied to music and pop culture, while also focusing on notions of black beauty. His early works transpose famous artworks from the past into the current context of black culture by replacing the traditional white subjects with young black men and women.
One of his most famous pieces features a black hand with long painted nails holding a red rose—a re-creation of the common symbol seen outside nail salons, which usually pictures a white woman’s hand with her nails freshly done.
Some of his more recent works focus specifically on the intersectionality between music and visual art. His 2016 exhibition at the Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami was accompanied by a mixtape he curated himself, as he said, “For me the mixtape is like a hypothesis and the show is the proof … Mixing is like art to me. The sound has to follow the concept behind the work on display.”
He takes musical inspiration from artists like Rihanna as well as Beyoncé and Jay-Z. He also uses familiar music in his gallery exhibits to reach out to the audience he wants to talk to: people who live in the Bronx, Little Haiti or Compton. People recognize the music, and it makes them feel more comfortable walking into a space they wouldn’t normally enter.
So it makes perfect sense for Beyoncé to choose Erizku for her pregnancy shoot. While she didn’t immediately name Erizku as the photographer, the symbolism and aesthetic didn’t make it hard to guess.
One photo in particular was a dead giveaway, featuring Beyoncé posing on top of an old red Porsche overflowing with flowers. The same Porsche was used in a previous exhibition of Erizku’s, titled “Ask the Dust.” He has since been confirmed as the photographer responsible for the shoot.
The specific poses that Beyoncé srikes are also very meaningful and reflective of Erizku’s previous photography. The insta-famous shot of Beyoncé kneeling in the flowers is symbolic of the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic patroness and mother figure in the Latin culture.
The Virgin is typically pictured in a frame of flowers, similar to those in the photo of Beyoncé. Another shot from the series depicts Beyoncé standing similarly to Sandro Botticelli's masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.”
The opportunity to photograph Beyoncé has catapulted Erizku’s work even further into fame and notoriety. Based on the stunning works we have seen from him thus far and the strength of his artistic mission, we can be sure to expect even more beauty from Erizku in the future.