Kehinde Wiley‘s impressive painting career is being celebrated at the Brooklyn Museum in a grand exhibition that is open right now. For fourteen years, he has been painting bold, decorative oil paintings that are reconfiguring the way African American culture is portrayed in art. He takes the techniques from the old European portraiture masters and turns them into modern and fresh images, relevant to a post-colonial culture. Old stuffy aristocrats and patrons wearing flouncy blouses and ridiculous wigs from centuries gone by, are replaced by black subjects with a certain street style to them.
Wiley asks different people – most of whom are regular passer-bys on the streets in Harlem, to sit for his portraits. They are given different art history books full of ornate backgrounds to choose from to complement their portrait. Wiley then paints them reenacting certain poses, imitating the European subjects and places the chosen embellishments behind and over their image. His style is a fusion of many different elements – French Rococo and the High Renaissance, Islamic architecture, West African textile design and urban hip hop, and is a result of his own mixed heritage.
Wiley later went on to create a series called The World Stage, where he traveled to Mumbai, Senegal, Dakar and Rio de Janeiro to portray different cultures and traditions in his work. He explains more:
One of the reasons I chose Brazil, Nigeria, India and China is that these are all the points of anxiety and curiosity and production that are going on in the world that are changing the way we see empire. As I’ve been traveling, I started to notice that the way many people in other parts of the world interact with American culture is through black American expression. It’s an interesting phenomenon. (Source)
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is an exhibition showing over 60 of his paintings and sculptures, and is on until the 24th of May.