Knowles, who is African-American and whose husband, Jay-Z, was one of the producers of the recent Kuti-inspired Broadway musical Fela!, appeared in dark makeup in the photos as a tribute to African queens, according to Time magazine. The makeup has inspired controversy, with many seeing it as reminiscent of the blackface makeup often used in minstrel shows of the past and now considered racially offensive.
The magazine said in a statement that the makeup was meant to show Beyonce returning to "her African roots." In an additional statement quoted on E! Online, the magazine said, "The designs are all reflective of the African influence on fashion this season. As for the artistic make-up, the inspiration came from several African rituals during which paint is used on the face. We find the images beautiful and inspiring."
Knowles has not made a statement on the matter, although Time reports that Kuti is an inspiration for her upcoming album.