Last week, Rihanna visited a massive headless artwork of her created by the artist Juan Sebastián Peláez, or as she said on Instagram, “Went to visit my boobs the biggest they’ll ever be.”
The artwork has been on display at the 9th Berlin Biennale for a couple months but Rihanna was finally able to stop by before performing in Berlin as part of her Anti world tour. The Berlin Biennale is one of the year’s hottest art events of the year and Peláez said he needed a figure who was recognizable to a global audience for the fair. “We wanted to work with a celebrity that is well known globally—taking anybody’s head off kinda makes them hard to identify—her body and tattoos made her easier to recognize,” Peláez told Complex over email.
Peláez added, though, that Rihanna had to pass an initial set of criteria before she could be considered as a subject for his artwork. Peláez has created a handful of these cut-outs, and the likes of Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira have all had their heads lopped off and faces placed on their chests by the artist. The inspiration for these works is “inspired by how many of the first European explorers saw “Americans” during the 16 century,” Peláez said.
Peláez points to artwork from this era that is based on the account from an Englishman who was exploring Venezuela. The drawing depicts “mythical headless creatures” with faces on their chests. These “creatures” were known as Ewaiponoma or Blemmyae (Blemmyes), hence the name of this artwork: “Ewaipanoma (Rihanna).”
The fact that Rihanna was born in Barbados was consequently very important to Paláez’s artwork which looks to “update the myth of those ‘first Americans,'” he said. “So I work upon celebrities that were born near where those European travelers first arrived: the Caribbean and the northern coasts of South America. I’m interested in the way identity is created and the relationship between propaganda and advertisement today.”
Propaganda and advertisement, in a different form, dates all the way back to when these European explorers were traveling to South America and it’s at the heart of what Paláez is trying to get at. “By putting a face in someone’s chest, you are saying that he has no rationality, that he is a beast,” Peláez told 032c. “They are not like ‘us,’ so we can do whatever we want with them. So Columbus traveled to America and discovered a bunch of chauffeurs. It’s like animals. Animals have no ‘neck’ that clearly separates their logic from their body. This is an image and an idea that’s been used for hundreds of years.”
Peláez has been working on this project for a decade and often studies his subjects by simply Googling them. “All the images I Google through the internet,” he said. “I usually have to use many images to construct the whole body and face.” Now that Rihanna has given his cut-out a visit, he has one more Google image to work with. We patiently await the companion piece.