what went down at rihanna's big reveal
i-D trekked out to LA's MAMA Gallery last night to catch up on the latest from Bad Gal RiRi. Taking in blindfolds, poets and Rihanna herself, this is what we saw...
It's called ANTi. It has no release date. There is no more music yet to speak of. This is the story of what did and did not happen in a Downtown gallery in Los Angeles last night when Rihanna showed up in a flash to unveil the album artwork for her eighth record (until now referred to by everyone not living under a diamond as R8). The front and back covers appeared on large canvasses, introduced by RiRi and Jerusalem-born, NYC-dwelling artist, Roy Nachum (already lending his talents to artwork for singles Four Five Seconds and Bitch Better Have My Money). And that is pretty much it.
Only the day prior to Wednesday evening's shenanigans, an exclusive invitation was sent out. "RIHANNA invites you to a private viewing of artwork by Roy Nachum for her 8th studio album", so it read. Obviously this was code for something, right? Music would be played surely! Perhaps an entire album? She would show up, of course… as would, fingers crossed, Kanye West (who's described himself as "executive producer"), Sia, Kiesza, DJ Mustard and/or Charli XCX (allegedly all working on the record), maybe even Eminem or RocNation labelmate Grimes, who tried to give Ri single Go, only to be rejected. We were blatantly all going to receive goodie bags with Rihanna's new perfume, too. And a pair of her PUMA Creepers. I brought a big empty satchel.
I left with a big empty satchel.
Arriving at 7pm on the dot like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, I came ready to solve the mystery of this evening's reveal. The location for MAMA gallery is directly in front of something called The LA Gun Club. My mind runs riot with Bitch Better Have My Money style possibilities of a pistol-toting afterparty. No.
There is an already huge line of attendants formed down the street, waiting while boxes of alcohol and, oddly, hand sanitising wipes are loaded into the gallery. Inside, it's a typical Rihanna hang. A lot of standing around waiting and pray-hand-emoji texting. What is happening? Is that guy over there in a Bathing Ape T-shirt someone we should know? There are nibbles. Pizza slices and Chinese chicken salads served in takeout cartons with chopsticks. There are free-flowing bars and DJs spinning Makonnen, Kanye, classic Rihanna singles and Frank Ocean (the other master of teasing fans about a forthcoming album that has yet to arrive). Ooh! Maybe Frank and Rihanna will come and drop a joint record tonight. Together! No.
There are some noteworthy people milling about: Jay Brown of Roc Nation, the producer known as The Dream and two of the cast of Straight Outta Compton (pretend Eazy-E and pretend Ice Cube).
Also of some significance is the artist responsible for the artwork himself. Roy Nachum uses Braille signage to elevate the sensory experience of his art. A gift from Rihanna on entry to the gallery is a piece of red cloth. Most partygoers place it around their necks, or make a bandana with it. I wonder if it's a blindfold? For the Braille, perhaps? It feels very 50 Shades Of Ri-Ri. Perhaps if we touch the Braille, Rihanna will appear? Isn't it rude to touch the art in a gallery?
There are five wall pieces on display in the main room, two are behind black cloth -- the front and back covers of the album per chance? They are protected by security men. Nobody notices. They are all busy taking selfies. Selfies in front of the placards! Selfies in front of the Braille! Selfies in front of the selfies! The first placard in the reception area displays a definition of the word "Anti".
"A person opposed to a particular policy, activity, or idea." My hunch is that this is what the album is called. But really who knows. I have a momentary thought that perhaps Ri was inspired by the baby known to the world via her repeated Instagrams over the past year as "Majesty". Perhaps R8 is an album about being that kind of Auntie.
The placards in the main room next to the pieces contain poems by both Nacham and Chloe Mitchell -- also present this evening and described by Rihanna as a "young black poet" (Google her, she has a Tumblr).
Who knows if they are lyrics? They could be just poems. We never find out. What does proceed to happen is that partygoers apply their red cloths as blindfolds and discover that upon rubbing the frames around the pieces of art, black chalk comes off which can then be applied to the pieces… That explains all the hand santiser. Rihanna fans blindfold each other and deface the exhibit (sadly not to the tune of "We gon' rub this town tonight"). I partake, of course. Here I am...
Just before 8.30pm Rihanna arrives, her hair braided, her ensemble long and black, her lips a deep purple and her bling out of control, topped off by a diamond choker around her neck. Everywhere she goes people scream, but there's nowhere to move -- this is a tiny gallery. She approaches the canvass at the back of the room with a drink in one hand and a microphone in the over, then delivers a five-minute speech, welcoming the "genius who sees things beyond the surface," her new artist bezzie.
The story goes that it was 4am one night in the studio. And she was looking at one of his latest pieces, feeling it "added another layer to the art". Rihanna says the collaboration is her favourite artwork ever (it is incredible, but let's not forget that up-close face shot on the cover of Loud). It's a reinterpretation of a photo of Rihanna from her first day at daycare. The Braille over the picture is a poem by Chloe Mitchell called "If They Let Us", written after a night of drinking and laughing with Roy and Ri.
"People who have sight are sometimes the people who are blindest," says Ri, rationalising the significance of the Braille. "It's good to look a little deeper and experience something new, other than the things on the surface."
The people cheer, and take more selfies in front of the newly revealed final pieces. Rihanna disappears as fast as she came, as is her way. On leaving the gallery, I reassess the first placard, with the definition of 'Anti'. "Rihanna has changed the history of album art," it says. "By continuing to follow her own instincts, her work strives to make an impact by doing the very antithesis of what the public expects." It's a roundabout extravagant way of telling the public that she still hasn't finished the album. The mystery continues.
Text and photography Eve Barlow