Billie Zangewa’s modern reinvention of the Birth of Venus, a 15th-century renown painting by artist Sondra Botticelli, is magnificently reinvented in her work, The Black Venus.
The painting is done on tantalizing silk and provides a fresh look at an old world view of women.
It’s plain to see, the moment you lay eyes on her. She is beautifully sculpted and her black skin takes center stage. The Black Venus is the manifestation of a modern, African woman – her graceful strength and imaginative posture reaching beyond her naked limbs and towering figure. She is undeniable and larger than life.
The Black Venus is also on the move. Billie shows her agility as she maneuvers her past city scapes and has her walking over large buildings like some giant, comic book, action figure. She leaps off the canvas literally personifying Africa’s growth and its changing face.
But for Billie the most powerful message may be how the painting also sets aside traditional feminine ideals associated with beauty. Beauty is black and the pageant-like sash strung loosely around Venus’ body is tired-looking and marked by the words “wholeheartedly” and “complexity.”
What I love about this feminist art is how it pulls women into a new vision of beauty – one that is athletic and powerful. It is an imaginative contrast to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, a Greek goddess washed ashore in a mythical setting. Botticelli’s Venus is naked, cold and looking for a safe harbor.
Billie’ image is obviously a very appropriate choice for illustrating psychologist Brene Brown’s advice. Brene tells people to hold their ground and not run in fear from one’s own powerful self. So what better image than Billie’s Venus, who demonstrates a self so unique and powerful it is the antithesis of fear.