Artist Tschabalala Self Painted Nicki Minaj’s Portrait for the New Digital Issue of ‘Vogue’

The painting was inspired by a photograph of Minaj by Norman Jean Roy.

Nicki Minaj. Photo: Michael Tran / AFP via Getty Images.

For the December edition of U.S. Vogue, the monthly lifestyle and fashion magazine has commissioned multimedia artist Tschabalala Self to create an artwork for its digital cover, which stars the rapper and actress Nicki Minaj.

Self’s image is a recreation of a photo from a shoot taken by Norman Jean Roy for the cover of this month’s issue. In the photo, Minaj wears a red Ferragamo sweater, briefs, and earrings over Calzedonia tights. This marks the first time the rapper, who has sold more 100 million records worldwide, has appeared on the cover of the U.S. edition of the magazine. She previously featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia in 2018 and Vogue Japan in 2019.

When she was approached to create the digital cover, Self was “thrilled” to be asked, telling Vogue: “I love Nicki Minaj. She is my favorite rapper. I am a Barb, so I was pretty thrilled to be asked.” (“Barbz” are fans of Minaj’s, referencing rapper’s nickname “Harajuku Barbie.”) Self explained that it was a challenge to capture the Grammy Award nominee “in just one image—that’s a big feat!”


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On December 15, Self shared four images in an Instagram carousel of her painting of Minaj. This post included a shot of the reverse of the stretched canvas, which has been signed and dated by the artist and stamped “Made in Catskill, NY.”

The New York-based artist, who has been celebrated for her empowering portraits of Black female figures, has painted Minaj with her signature figuration. The musician is depicted with a steely gaze, with her long hair and gleaming red outfit illustrated with loose brush strokes and cut-outs.

“I really wanted to capture her strength and natural beauty in this portrait,” Self explained. “So I spent a lot of time delicately articulating her features and powerful gaze. And yes, it was a challenge, for sure.”

Self’s work is currently included in a number of ongoing exhibitions, including “Africa Supernova” at Kunsthal KAdE in the Netherlands, “Dawn of Humanity” at Kunstmuseum Bonn in Germany, and “Making Their Mark” at the Shah Garg Foundation in New York. As an artist concerned with “the iconic significance of the Black female body in contemporary culture,” according to her mission statement, the Vogue cover painting is a logical entry into her oeuvre.

“I have always been greatly inspired by popular culture,” Self said, “so it means a lot to contribute to this aspect of the visual cultural realm through the realization of a Vogue cover.”


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