A look at Kehinde Wiley’s novel arts residency program in Senegal that will link Africa and the West

June 05, 2019 at 09:00 am | Art Attack

Elikem M. Aflakpui

Elikem M. Aflakpui

June 05, 2019 at 09:00 am | Art Attack

Credit: time.com

Kehinde Wiley, the man who painted the iconic portrait of former president Barack Obama, has launched a residency program for artists in Dakar, Senegal. The American artist who shot to fame last year after the unveiling of a painting many described as radical of the former president believes this program will foster a positive relationship between Africa and the West.

Barack Obama chose Wiley in October 2017 to paint an official portrait of him to appear in Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s “America’s Presidents” exhibition. The painting was unveiled on February 12, 2018, and depicts Obama sitting in a chair seemingly floating among foliage.

Black Rock Senegal – the name he has given the program, will facilitate cross-cultural collaboration; artists, filmmakers and writers from around the world will have the opportunity to travel the country, immerse themselves in Senegalese culture and learn from local artisans, reports Quartz.

Some 15 deserving residents will be selected by a committee over the next few weeks to take part in one, two or three month-long stays. It is exciting that this program is coming to Africa because, hopefully, it will help artists who are selected to hone their skills and show the rest of the world a view of Africa that is different from disaster and malady that Africa has become noted for.

Wiley said to the audience at the launch which included Naomi Campbell, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beat, “I want to be able to share the dynamic, complicated, hopeful, youthful nature of what modern Africa feels like, because I know what that is and it’s been going on for a long time, but it’s such a secret to so many people in the West,” reports Quartz.

Wiley is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people. Apart from Obama’s portrait, he also did a painting of Michelle Obama and Michael Jackson (his personal favourite). Wiley, who was selected in April 2018 as one of Time’s 100 – the magazine’s annual survey of key global influencers – has also painted the likes of Elton John, Spike Lee, Alicia Keys, Venus Williams and hip-hop sensations Grandmaster Flash and Notorious B.I.G.

portrait painter - wiley kehinde
Kehinde Wiley and Naomi Campbell at the opening of the art residency in Dakar, Senegal
Credit: Quartz

The artist’s relationship with Africa began in 1977 when he went looking for his estranged father in Nigeria. His plane stopped in Dakar, he fell in love and decided to make Senegal his other country. This decision came from his yearning to have an authentic connection with his place of origin.

Black Rock Senegal has been in the offing for six years and Wiley is happy it is finally coming into fruition. The location of the residency comprises three townhouse-style homes by the seaside. In this setting, furnished with studio space, an elegant garden and solar panels, residents will live and work. It’s also by the seaside with the hope of providing the artists with the inspiration they need.  

The building – Black Rock – which was completed in part by a Senegalese architect and interior designer was opened at a party on May 26. Guests who attended were dressed in an eclectic mix of traditional Senegalese robes, Western haute couture and African inspired designs. And they danced around the compound’s infinity pool, which appeared to drip right into the ocean, Quartz reported.

Black Rock is close to Gorée Island, which was once the largest slave-trading hub on the African coast. According to Wiley, the siting is of Pan-African value. While Gorée was once the door of no return, his (Black Rock) is an invitation – an invitation to artists not just of African descent, but to artists from around the world, “to see themselves through the eyes of this place and through the eyes of this community,” he said. In doing so, “Africa becomes the fulcrum point through which artists look inward and outward.”

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