will.i.am's labour of Louvre

Rapper was so inspired by the museum, he made a documentary on it

Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am (above) in front of the Mona Lisa painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre museum on Tuesday.
Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am (above) in front of the Mona Lisa painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre museum on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • He is, after all, rap's renaissance man.

Singer will.i.am revealed to the world on Tuesday the results of his most unlikely collaboration yet after he was allowed to spend an "awesome" night in the Louvre museum.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman shot a video of his song Smile Mona Lisa in the Paris landmark as a tribute to his hero, Leonardo da Vinci - and found the place "so cool", he decided to make a documentary about it.

In the music clip, will.i.am appears in some of the museum's greatest masterpieces, including as a gun-toting revolutionary in Delacroix's Liberty Leading The People, while singer Nicole Scherzinger slips into the clothes of the enigmatic Mona Lisa.

Actor, philanthropist and tech evangelist will.i.am, who is Intel's director of creative innovation as well as the man behind the Puls smartwatch, said he saw many parallels between Da Vinci and today's tech pioneers.

"Leonardo (and other Renaissance artists) were the tech of those times... they were engineers, inventors, they were into astronomy, anatomy and they painted for leisure," he said. "When I see the Renaissance, I see hope because the world changed in 1716, 1816 and 1916. And here we are in 2016 and it's awesome."

In the Web documentary he shot called Will.i.am At The Louvre, he raves about the Old Masters in what he calls the "greatest museum on Earth".

But it was a piece of monumental 18th-century bling which really floored the singer.

He marvelled at the technology of Claude-Simeon Passemant's gold and silver Pendulum Of The Creation Of The World, made in 1754, which not only told the time, but showed precisely how the Earth was tilting on its axis. "That is the best thing I've seen," he said.

"This place is magic, inspirational," the rapper had said earlier as he was chased through the corridors of the museum by camera crews in a scene that could have come straight from Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

After agreeing to follow 20-year-old fan Ousman Cissokho on Instagram, he told reporters that the "one sad thing" was the lack of black faces on the museum's walls beyond its Egyptian collections.

"When people see the (music) clip (of the singer inside Vermeer and Rembrandt paintings), the first thing they do is laugh," the hip-hop star said.

"The reason they are laughing is because we have never... seen Africans or people of African descent in a masterpiece. And that is because at some point in time, black people were a piece of property of their masters."

But technology brought hope for change, he said, and one day museums such as the Louvre may display iPhones alongside Rembrandts.

"In 100 years from now, we will all agree that Apple is a company that makes art and provides tools for artists," he added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'will.i.am's labour of Louvre'. Subscribe