with Kehinde Wiley
Games of poker or solitaire have a little more flair with artist-designed decks by Kehinde Wiley (previously). Gracing four 54-card packs are Wiley’s vividly rendered portraits of Black people, all of which subvert portraiture traditions of Western art history as they highlight subjects of the African diaspora. While fragments of the vibrant botanical backdrops adorn the cards’ faces, the reverse depicts the full works, including the artist’s 2012 painting of model Dacia Carter and “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” which reinterprets Thomas Gainsborough’s iconic “Blue Boy” by placing a Sengalese surfer at its center.
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Kehinde Wiley Addresses Vulnerability and Resilience in a New Series of Monumental Portraits and Bronze Figures
In 2008, artist Kehinde Wiley (previously) exposed the violence against Black bodies in a series of majestic portraits titled DOWN. Holbein’s painting “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb,” which depicts an emaciated Jesus outstretched on white cloth, inspired Wiley’s collection that reimagined the 16th Century piece and other art historical works in the same vein with contemporary metaphors of pain and ecstasy. Centering on Black men lying on their sides with twisted limbs or supine against the artist’s signature floral backdrops, DOWN positioned the subjects as saints and heroes as they confronted death.
Now more than a decade later, Wiley returns to this series for a new body of work that expands on its themes and indictment of the continued brutality against Black people. An Archaeology of Silence, hosted by Fondazione Giorgio Cini for the Venice Biennale, exhibits new bronze figures and large-scale portraits featuring subjects in unguarded positions, their eyes closed, arms splaying outward, and bodies resting.
Monumental in scale— “Femme Piquée Par Un Serpent (Mamadou Gueye),” or “Woman Stung By A Snake (Mamadou Gueye),” is 25-feet wide, for example—the works portray Black men and women as icons, and while vulnerable, the figures exude a sense of resilience and perseverance, having endured exceptional pain and cruelty. Both sculptures and portraits speak to the ways technology has allowed more people to witness injustices that have been occurring for centuries. “That is the archaeology I am unearthing: The spectre of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world,” Wiley says, explaining further:
While this work is not specifically about tomb effigies, it does relate to death, mortality, powerlessness, and the downcast figure—the juxtaposition of death and decay in the midst of a narrative of youth and redemption. It is an expression of my desire to depict the struggles of Black and Brown youth globally, through the rubric of violence and power.
An Archaeology of Silence will be on view through July 24. You can explore more of Wiley’s practice on Instagram, and visit his shop for goods and prints that support Black Rock Senegal, the residency the artist established in 2019 in Dakar.
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New York-based visual artist Kehinde Wiley (previously) recently unveiled a bronze sculpture of an African American man riding a horse in the center of Times Square at Broadway Plaza between 46th and 47th streets. Titled “Rumors of War,” the statue references controversial Confederate War monuments that still stand in Richmond, Virginia over a century after they were erected.
Commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Wiley’s first public artwork will be relocated to a spot near the museum’s entrance. Just over a mile away is the statue of General J.E.B. Stuart that inspired “Rumors of War”. The artist first saw the monument during a trip to Virginia in 2016. He said in an interview with the Washington Post that he chose it as a reference because of the “gestural feel of the horse.” Standing over 27 feet tall, Wiley’s sculpture mimics Stuart’s half-turned pose and the stride of the horse, but his figure is a Black man with locked hair and contemporary apparel, including a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers.
“Today we say yes to something that looks like us,” Wiley said at the unveiling event last month. “We say yes to inclusivity. We say yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.” For a closer look at more of Kehinde Wiley’s important work, follow the artist on Instagram.
Update: The sculpture is now permanently in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
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Detailed Portraits of Tahiti’s Third Gender by Kehinde Wiley Challenge Gauguin’s Problematic Depictions
American artist Kehinde Wiley (previously) has unveiled a new series of paintings of Tahiti’s Māhū community, a group of Polynesians classified as a third gender between male and female. Presented at Galerie Templon in Paris, the colorful portrait series challenges a collection of 20th-century works by Paul Gauguin, removing elements that Wiley considers problematic and exploitative side effects of colonialism.
Wiley takes issues with Gauguin’s depictions of the Māhū for being unrealistic fantasies that sexually objectify the community for the sake of his White audience back home. The paintings in his “Tahiti” series incorporate tribal patterns, bright colors, plants, and poses inspired by Gauguin’s work, but these distinctive elements were chosen by the models themselves as a form of “self-presentation.”
“I am interested in transformation and artifice,” the artist said in a statement. “My newest exhibition will engage with the history of France and its outward facing relationship to black and brown bodies, specifically relating to sexual proclivity. Gauguin features heavily in the imagination of France and her global interface–with that comes an entire history of complicated gazing. I interrogate, subsume, and participate in discourse about Māhū, about France, and about the invention of gender.”
The “Tahiti” exhibition opened on May 18 and will remain on view at the gallery (along with a new video work) through July 20, 2019. Follow Kehinde Wiley on Instagram to see what else he has been up to, including preparing for his upcoming Black Rock Senegal residency.
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Painter Kehinde Wiley is renowned for his large-scale portraits of Black subjects (perhaps most notably President Barack Obama). His most recent body of work is on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum and draws inspiration from eight works of art in the museum’s collection, which are referenced in all but one of his paintings’ titles. Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis is comprised of 11 portraits of people the artist met in 2017 on the city’s north side and in nearby Ferguson, the community where 18-year-old unarmed Black citizen Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in 2014.
“My job is to see things in an accurate context in a society where so often black people are reduced to simple stereotypes,” Wiley explained in an interview with the St. Louis American. “What I’m doing is slowing down and taking time to honor people from every little detail of their being. From their nails to the type of jeans that they are wearing – or that sort of timidity or boldness of their character.” The resulting portraits are filled with Wiley’s signature jewel tones and elaborate pattern work that interacts with his subjects, both showcasing and enveloping each figure. As contemporary Black Americans in their own clothing strike the grand postures of white Europeans of centuries past, Wiley juxtaposes the traditions and tensions of race and representation in the art world.
Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis is on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum (which is free and open to the public) in Saint Louis, Missouri until February 10, 2019. You can watch a video of the artist’s in-depth talk at the museum here. Wiley also shares his completed and in-progress works on Instagram.
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The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was created in 1962 by an Act of Congress, is the only location outside of the White House with a collection of portraits of former United States Presidents. Today, Barack and Michelle Obama unveiled their likenesses, created by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. The Obamas selected the artists—Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to be commissioned for presidential portraits.
Wiley’s depiction of President Obama features the artist’s signature style of richly-hued background patterns setting a vibrant symbolic environment for the portrait’s subject. President Obama is surrounded by a carefully selected variety of foliage: jasmine, which represents Hawaii; African blue lilies for his father’s Kenyan heritage; and Chicago’s official flower, the chrysanthemum. For Mrs. Obama’s portrait, Sherald engaged her distinctive combination of depicting skin tone in grayscale, offset by the sharply rendered full-color fabric of Mrs. Obama’s floor-length dress.
The Smithsonian shares with Colossal that the portraits will be on view to the public beginning Tuesday, February 13. Wiley’s painting of President Obama will be permanently installed in the Portrait Gallery’s “America’s Presidents” exhibition, and Sherald’s portrait of Mrs. Obama will be displayed in the museum’s “Recent Acquisitions” corridor through November 2018. Sherald also has a solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which opens May 11, 2018.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.