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Rihanna Celebrates the Beauty of Black Women With a Collection of Fenty Cameos

Rihanna Celebrates the Beauty of Black Women With a Collection of Fenty Cameos

If historical jewelry is about reclaiming, reinventing, and even sometimes subverting the past, we should not be surprised that Rihanna, whose spectacular style and brilliance at figuring out what we want (often before we know it ourselves!), has just launched a line of Fenty cameos celebrating the beauty of black women. These cameos, featuring women in profile, are rendered in black resin and glass, enhanced with tiny pearls and glass beads, and available as earrings, rings, and even a brooch that converts to a pendant.

A bit of backstory: The very word cameo may come from Kame’o, a term used in kabbalistic language to signify a magical square. In early history these magical squares depicted ancient warriors and rulers; in ancient Greece women were said to wear Eros cameos to signify that they were—how shall we put it?—ready for a little action. Renaissance pope Paul II was a big cameo collector; Napoleon allegedly wore one to his wedding. In the 18th century, when wealthy young European women were beginning to travel, they brought back cameos that depicted architectural ruins as souvenirs of their grand tours. By the middle of the 19th century, everyone who could get their hands on a bit of disposable income was pinning cameos to the collars of their huge dresses.

But did any of these carved treasures of yesteryear depict black people? In fact there is a fraught history of what is known as blackamoor jewelry—exquisitely carved pieces depicting so-called moors that have their origins in the ateliers of 16th-century Venice. The characters portrayed on these antique brooches and rings, though often lavishly robed, have to our contemporary eyes disturbing connotations: They can be seen as relegating their subjects to the realm of the merely exotic; the lavish costumes can be dismissed as the garb of richly dressed servants; and, worst of all, these pieces may be viewed as talismans of the slave trade.

Which is why it is even more important for us to rediscover and reclaim the portraits of the beautiful black women who grace earlier cameos, to appreciate the enduring loveliness that no racist story can ever diminish! These Fenty cameos make it easy to celebrate their history and honor their singular grace.