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Rihanna by Lorna Simpson for Essence

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Lorna Simpson, ‘Of Earth & Sky (Blue Cumulus),’ 2020. All images © Lorna Simpson

For Essence’s January/February 2021 Issue, Lorna Simpson collaborated with pop visionary and entrepreneur Rihanna for a continuation of her ‘Of Earth & Sky’ collage series, which she has been developing since 2016, melding magazine portraits of Black women with geological and astronomical imagery. Comprised of 12 collages and the cover image, the works are paired with an essay by the artist’s daughter, Zora Simpson Casebere.
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‘Of Earth & Sky (Bivalve),’ 2020

In the accompanying text, the writer and actor shares how Rihanna helped shape her womanhood at an early age:

‘I am 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. I was thirteen when Anti and ‘S&M’ introduced me to the subject of kink in general.’

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‘Of Earth & Sky (Moving Planets),’ 2020

‘My mom and I often blasted ‘Man Down’ from the car stereo while she drove me to school. I reveled in its ragga influence as a celebration of self and a means of connecting to my mother and her Afro-Caribbean father.’—Zora Simpson Casebere

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‘Of Earth & Sky (Nebula),’ 2020
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‘Of Earth & Sky (Bridge),’ 2020

‘As a reflection on rage and an expression of regret, ‘Man Down’ helped me imagine the possibilities of power, vulnerability and complexity that one might hold as a Black woman. When the accompanying music video was released a year later, I experienced this song as a meditation on the gravity of sexualized violence and a recognition of the sacrosanctity of one’s voice and bodily autonomy. My mom and I often blasted ‘Man Down’ from the car stereo while she drove me to school. I reveled in its ragga influence as a celebration of self and a means of connecting to my mother and her Afro-Caribbean father.’—Zora Simpson Casebere

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'Earth & Sky #24', 2016
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‘Nebulae Fig. 85,’ 2019
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‘Of Earth & Sky (Rihanna),’ 2020

Visit Essence for more on this historic collaboration, and learn more about artist Lorna Simpson.