The 9th Berlin Biennale for contemporary art, open to the public from June 4 until September 18, has a giant RiRi on display. The piece entitled Ewaipanoma (Rihanna) was made by Colombian artist Juan Sebastián Peláez and can be seen at the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art.
The Ewaipanoma are old mythical creatures described as having a mouth in their chest and eyes in their shoulders. As grand colonizer Walter Raleigh went to strip Guyana (where Rihanna’s maternal family is from) of its resources and hand them over to the British crown in 1595, he came across the rumor/tale of these ”headless men”. Quoting local children and the occasional anonymous Spanish bastard, he went on to pen down the myth of the Ewaipanoma in a book called The discovery of Guiana (as if the land wasn’t discovered long before his white ass settled down on it…).
Juan Sebastián Peláez work is described to the visitors as ”featuring upright, oversize photo-cutouts of headless human bodies—captured in athletic positions, sporting bikini swimwear, or posing in the limelight in glitzy, bling gowns—with faces surreally integrated into their chests. Both the bodies and faces are sourced from pop queens and soccer stars from the Caribbean or Latin America. A giant Rihanna welcomes visitors here in the courtyard. While hinting at the sometimes monstrous body modifications typical of celebrity culture, these works also reference longstanding projections of otherness. For these works Peláez was inspired by drawings from sixteenth-century explorers of the New World (like Sir Walter Raleigh), who on returning home described having encountered so-called “Blemmyae,” headless natives with faces on their upper, naked bodies.”
I see it as a comment on pop stars’ mythical status in today’s society and how stories of these larger than life creatures are just as man made (and manipulated) as the old myths. Spoken by one person, passed on to the other, spread at the hands of whomever sees a gain from spreading them. What Raleigh did by writing a book in the 16th century, fans/management/the person themselves do today by posting on social media. Yes? No?
And what happens when hundreds of people post pictures of themselves in front of a giant Rihanna that’s been manipulated to look like an Ewaipanoma, followed by hundreds of fans reposting those images as well? Is it possible for the piece itself to reach mythical status? Wandering millions of miles from the original sighting on it’s way through the thick jungles of cyber space.
And here I am forwarding, interpreting and manipulating the message through a blog post. Because I too want to be part of the myth building simply because I feel part of Rihanna (both myth and person). In that way, it’s not just her or the Ewaipanomas that evolve with each person whispering their name. So does the whisperers as we engage with the world through and with them.
Maybe RiRi will stop by herself during her AWT show in Berlin on August 16? I can definitely see it happen.