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ESSENCE is kicking off 2021 with a Bajan Bad Gal in all her artsy glory.

Rihanna x Essence

Source: Lorna Simpson / Essence Magazine

Rihanna is the magazine’s January + February cover star and she posed for exclusive shots taken by legendary artist Lorna Simpson.

For their photos, Rih is said to be “reinterpreting the narrative of modern-day beauty” and the photographic cover collage is deemed “Of Earth & Sky.” Additionally, she posed for a 12-page portfolio feature that channels iconic Black magazine spreads and plays into Simpson’s style of creating collages that recontextualize images of Black women from vintage pages of Ebony and Jet magazines.

Rihanna x Essence

Source: Lorna Simpson / Essence Magazine

Both Rih and Lorna expressed their excitement to ESSENCE about working together.

“I needed to create images of Rihanna to place within the environments of source materials from my archive,” Simpson told ESSENCE about her abstract work.

“Lorna is a legend,” said Rihanna, 32, of the artist whose lauded career spans three decades. Although teaming with Simpson was an idea conceived with her creative director, Jahleel Weaver, Rihanna was trepidatious about taking the first step.

“Honestly, I just didn’t think I could get her,” Rihanna laughed. “But I like reaching for the stars and I like challenging myself.”

For the shots, Rih rocks pieces from her signature Savage X Fenty line as well as Prada, Givenchy, Hood by Air, Thelma West, Rick Owens, and more.

 

Rihanna x Essence

Source: Lorna Simpson / Essence Magazine

Also included in the January + February issue is the piece, Anthems of Possibility, written by Simpson’s daughter, writer, and actor Zora Simpson Casebere. Zora weighs in on how Rihanna helped shape her womanhood at an early age and how serving as a stand-in model on set for her mother was a full-circle moment.

Zora says she was floored watching Rih Rih’s photos unfold assisted her mom in exploring visual contexts from the collages including 19th-century lithographs of mineral specimens, and old Associated Press pics.

Rihanna x Essence

Source: Lorna Simpson / Essence Magazine

She also noted that Rih was in an upbeat mood and requested that the song “Thick” by DJ Chose be played while she struck her poses for the photos.

“At 13, I was deeply grateful that at a formative time in my life, it was Rihanna’s voice and art that became my portals to so many questions about sexuality, sexual exploration and sexual autonomy. Now, on set, I assisted my mother as a model as she explored how she might later place Rihanna within the visual contexts she’d selected from vintage Ebony magazines, old Associated Press photographs and 19th-century lithographs of mineral specimens. When Rihanna arrived at the set—my first time seeing her in real life—I was mesmerized. She was the very definition of grace, charisma and influence. Wearing a magnificent Maximilian black headdress, she requested the song ‘Thick’ by DJ Chose, then met the camera with power and possibility—power in how she moved her body through space, and possibility in how she dismantled and moved beyond institutional boundaries…”

Oh Rih, gotta love her!

Rihanna x Essence

Source: Lorna Simpson / Essence Magazine

ESSENCE’s January + February 2021 issue will also pay homage to Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris’ historic win with reflections by five influential Black women: Donna Brazile, Leah Daughtry, Karen Finney, Star Jones andMinyon Moore. It will also feature an interview with Barack Obama talking about his new book and an excerpt from Cicely Tyson’s new memoir.

The issue hits newsstands next week.

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