The meaning behind Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves” lynching tree photo at VMA performance


Miley Cyrus has succeeded in seriously distracting everyone with her twerks and grinds, and tongue action (just to mention a few of the things) at the VMAs Sunday night, which is kind of sad because Kanye West’s simple, stripped down performance is being largely overlooked.

Kanye sang “Blood on the Leaves,” which samples Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit,” a song steeped in sorrow and indignation about racism and the practice of lynching in the United States.

Kanye gave an emotional and animated performance completely in silhouette in front of a projection of filmmaker Steve McQueen’s photograph called “Lynching Tree.” The photo is currently on display at Schaulager Museum in Basel, Switzerland, and depicts a tree in New Orleans where lynchings took place, and where several lynching victims are buried. The result was a haunting, beautiful, and disturbing effect. Kanye forced us to confront some of the darkest parts of humanity while watching an awards show about fun pop music. I couldn’t help it, it made me feel a little something inside.

The photo is part of McQueen’s latest film project, 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofar and co-staring Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. The film, which opens October 18, depicts the story of a 19th century free black man, Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped in New York and sold into slavery.

Here’s the photo:

hits counter