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Dec 27, 2022
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‍Kehinde Wiley: Crafting a Vision for a New Generation of Black Artists

The New Yorker Magazine published a feature article written by Julian Lucas on how the artist Kehinde Wiley has gone from picturing power to building it. He is best known for painting Barack Obama’s presidential portrait and his immense paintings reimagining Western art traditions through the use of contemporary Black sitters. In the art world, Kehinde Wiley has become a household name. Wiley is a Nigerian-American artist who has used his art to challenge traditional notions of power and to create a more diverse and inclusive representation of African Americans. Wiley’s work began in the late 1990s, when he began to make paintings and sculptures of African Americans in traditional European poses. By subverting the traditional notion of power, Wiley’s art was able to create a new, more inclusive narrative about African Americans that transcended race and gender. Wiley’s rise to fame began in 2008 when his painting “Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II” was featured in the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s “Greater New York” exhibition. The painting, which depicts a contemporary African American man on horseback wearing a traditional African garment, was a critical and commercial success and solidified Wiley as a rising star in the art world. Since then, Wiley’s work has continued to explore the intersections between politics, race, and gender. His work has since been featured in exhibitions and galleries around the world, and he has been awarded numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.

In recent years, Wiley has expanded his work to encompass other forms of power. He has become an advocate for social justice causes, and has been vocal about the need for more representation of African Americans in the art world. He has also become an advocate for educational reform, and has helped to establish the Kehinde Wiley Education Initiative, which provides scholarships to low-income African American children. Wiley’s work has also extended into the realm of politics

Wiley, both an iconoclast and a lover of the canon, draws strength from the contradictions that define his work.Photograph by Shikeith for The New Yorker

In his work, Kehinde Wiley has sought to capture the complexity and power of Black identity. From his first major works, which depicted young African-American men in heroic poses and ornate costumes, to his more recent portraits of prominent figures, Wiley has sought to redefine the way we view Black people in art.

In his latest project, however, Wiley is taking his mission of empowering Black people to a new level: he is building power. He founded the non-profit Kehinde Wiley Foundation, which focuses on providing art education and opportunity for under-served youth. Through his foundation, the Kehinde Wiley Foundation, Wiley is working to create a new generation of Black leaders, providing mentorship and resources to young people who have been historically marginalized. By elevating the stories of Black innovators and inspiring the next generation of leaders, Wiley is helping to create a more equitable world.

Wiley’s foundation provides mentorship to young people from underrepresented backgrounds, allowing them to gain access to resources, skills, and networks that can help propel them to success. In addition, Wiley is using his platform to challenge the status quo, speaking out against racism and pushing for greater representation of Black people in the arts. He has also made donations to organizations that are helping to build economic security and opportunity for African-Americans, and has partnered with institutions to create scholarships and fellowships to support Black students and artists. Through his foundation, Wiley is striving to create a future in which all people have an equal chance to succeed. By investing in and empowering Black youth, Wiley is helping to create a more equitable world.

As he puts it, “My art is about power, but the foundation is about creating power.” By providing mentorship and resources to those who have been historically marginalized, Wiley is helping to build a brighter future for all.
Wiley’s portraits often recast Western portraiture, endowing Black youth with Old Master grandiosity. “Femme Piquée Par Un Serpent (Mamadou Gueye),” from 2022, reimagines a sculpture, by Auguste Clésinger, that was first displayed in 1847.Art work © Kehinde Wiley / Courtesy Galerie Templon

In 2017, Wiley became the first African-American to receive the prestigious Eugene Smith Memorial Fund grant. With the money, Wiley established the non-profit, The Black Rock Senegal, which focuses on empowering youth in Senegal through art. By providing resources, mentorship, and artistic education, The Black Rock Senegal is helping to create a new generation of African-American leaders. In addition to his work with The Black Rock Senegal, Wiley has also launched a creative fellowship program for African-American artists called “The Kehinde Wiley Fellowship Program”. Through this program, Wiley is hoping to provide young African-American artists with the resources and guidance necessary to succeed in the art world. In the past year, Wiley has also launched a new initiative called “The Kehinde Wiley Legacy Project”. This project is focused on creating a lasting legacy through the preservation of his artwork and the promotion of African-American culture. The project includes a series of public art installations in cities across the country, as well as an online virtual gallery.

Kehinde Wiley is an artist whose bold imagery and commitment to empowerment have earned him global recognition. In recent years, Wiley has shifted his focus from simply creating powerful images to building tangible power. Through his work with The Black Rock Senegal and The Kehinde Wiley Fellowship Program, Wiley is helping to create a new generation of African-American leaders.

Black Rock is a multidisciplinary artist-in-residence program founded by renowned artist Kehinde Wiley in 2019. The residency brings together international artists to live and work in Dakar, Senegal for 1-3 month stays. The Black Rock compound design was conceived by Senegalese architect Abib Djenne with interior collaboration between Wiley, Fatiya Djenne, and Aissa Dione. The complex includes a residence and studio space for Wiley along with three single-occupancy residency apartments with adjacent studio spaces. Our mission is to support new artistic creation through collaborative exchange and to incite change in the global discourse about what Africa means today.

His work often focuses on the power dynamics between those in positions of authority and those who are marginalized and oppressed. Through his portraits, Wiley has sought to highlight the struggles of African Americans and other marginalized communities and to challenge traditional depictions of power and authority. But Wiley has also worked to make an impact beyond the canvas. In 2015, he founded Studio Number One, a creative agency that produces artwork, films, and events to promote social justice and racial equity. In addition, Wiley has worked with a variety of organizations to promote the work of African American artists, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Brooklyn Museum.

“Portrait of Jorge Gitoo Wright,” 2022.Art work © Kehinde Wiley / Courtesy Sean Kelly

Perhaps most significantly, Wiley has used his platform to speak out against racism and injustice. He has appeared in several media outlets to discuss the importance of representation in the art world, and he has been outspoken in his criticism of the current administration’s policies and rhetoric. Wiley’s recent activism has enhanced his legacy as an artist and as an advocate for social justice. He has used his platform to challenge traditional notions of power and authority, and to promote art education and opportunity for those who are often overlooked. By doing so, Wiley has shown that art can be a powerful tool for effecting positive change.

In a society where power is often defined by money, status, and influence, the work of Kehinde Wiley stands out as a unique reflection of what true power looks like. For over two decades, the artist, who was born in Los Angeles in 1977, has been creating works of art that celebrate the beauty of blackness and challenge the traditional norms of power and representation.

Wiley's work is often described as "re-contextualizing the traditional power structures of portraiture" and his style has been compared to the likes of Rembrandt, Velazquez, and Goya. His larger than life canvases feature figures of color and his signature bold colors, patterns, and textures. He has also created sculptures, video installations, and public art pieces, all of which speak to the power of representation.

Wiley's work has been exhibited in galleries around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Louvre in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.He has also created public art pieces in Los Angeles, New York, and other cities, including a monument of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City's Washington Square Park.

Following the success of Black Rock Senegal, the lavish arts residency he’s established in Dakar—soon to be joined by a second location, in Nigeria—Wiley is shifting the art world’s center of gravity toward Africa with a determination that combines the institution-founding fervor of Booker T. Washington and the stagecraft of Willy Wonka. No longer just painting power, he’s building it.