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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

February 22, 2024: Art of Kehinde Wiley: His art has the power to ignite innovative ideas about culture and justice, helping us reconsider how we see ourselves and the world around us,"

Thursday, February 22, 2024: The Art of Kehinde Wiley: His art has the power to ignite innovative ideas about culture and justice, helping us reconsider how we see ourselves and the world around us,"


Dear Beloved Community: We had the opportunity to visit the DeYoung Museum last year and view the paintings and sculptures by Kehinde Wiley in an exhibition called "An Archeology of Silence." It was so moving and I'm honored to share some of the photos we took of his work.



What follows is a reflection cobbled together from several sources:


SAN FRANCISCO – The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the “Museums”) are honored to host the US premiere of Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence, a monumental new body of work created against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the worldwide rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. An Archaeology of Silence meditates on the deaths of young Black people slain all over the world. These 25 works stand as elegies and monuments, underscoring the fraught terms in which Black people are rendered visible, especially when at the hands of systemic violence.

 



"Kehinde Wiley's visionary art sends an affirming and profound message by filling the void of Black representation in history and shining a light on the Black experience of today. His art has the power to ignite innovative ideas about culture and justice, helping us reconsider how we see ourselves and the world around us," said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. "The Ford Foundation is proud to support the exhibition of this work and the reflections that it will share."

 

Kehinde Wiley has dedicated his artistic career to uplifting the beauty and power of Black people, in particular young black men, who often function in his work as standings for himself.

 

Over the past 20 years, he has received wide acclaim for projecting his subjects into positions of authority and grace by painting - and more recently sculpting - them in compositions inspired by famous Western portraits. Wiley’s figures often triumphantly occupy cultural spaces traditionally reserved for white royalty, clergy, or nobility, as he interrogates his subjects’ exclusion from such historical representations.

 

At the same time, such works offer, an acerbic commentary on the codified and commodified attributes of black masculinity in Western society, that demand the repression of any type of human vulnerability.

 



it is this vulnerability that unites the subjects – Black men and Black women – of An Archaeology of Silence. In this new body of work, Wiley rejects the heroic language of portraiture, and it’s insistence on verticality. Instead, he foregrounds the symbolism of death and sacrifice as embodied through the art, historical motif of the recumbent figure. His horizontal, black figures, and often ambiguous states of pain, grief, sleep, or death, reference, iconic western paintings and sculptures of fallen heroes, lovers, martyr, or saints, – conjuring pain and ecstasy, suffering and transcendence. “That is the archaeology I am unearthing: the specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world.” -- Kehinde Wiley

 

 “Utilizing the historical visual language of the dying hero, Wiley’s portraits of Black youths render visible previously obscured victims and survivors of systemic violence. In the Bay Area–a place that has resisted violence against Black people, as evidenced in the Black Power movement and the current Black Lives Matter movement–Wiley’s work has deep resonances. They ask each of us, how are we implicated? And how do we take action?”



About Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977, Los Angeles) is an American artist whose work brings art history face-to-face with contemporary culture, using the visual rhetoric of the heroic, the powerful, the majestic and the sublime to celebrate Black and brown people the artist has met throughout the world. Working in the mediums of painting, sculpture, and video, Wiley’s portraits challenge and reorient art-historical narratives, awakening complex issues that many would prefer remain muted.




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