Celebrated artist Kehinde Wiley accused of sexual assault by Ghanaian artist Joseph Awuah-Darko

Francis Akhalbey May 20, 2024
Joseph Awuah-Darko [left] claimed Kehinde Wiley sexually assaulted him in June 2021 -- Left photo: okuntakinte/Instagram | Right photo: kehindewiley/Instagram

Renowned Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley has refuted allegations of sexual assault brought against him by British-born, Ghana-based artist Joseph Awuah-Darko. Per ARTnews, Awuah-Darko, who is from one of the wealthiest families in Ghana, took to Instagram on Sunday to claim the 47-year-old sexually assaulted him on two different occasions on June 9, 2021.

“I first met the American artist of Nigerian descent at a dinner held in his honor by Ghana’s Creative Art Council at the Noldor Artist Residency,” Awuah-Darko said in the statement. “The chosen venue was my place of work and an institution I founded in 2020. And as such I was to be present and invited in a professional capacity amongst other figures – all of whom play a major role within and beyond Ghana’s artistic and creative ecosystem.”

Awuah-Darko also provided details about the alleged assault. He claimed that in the first one, Wiley inappropriately groped him, adding that the 47-year-old “preceded to grab my buttocks and with his hand before saying something along the lines of ‘what is this thing?’”

Awuah-Darko said the initial incident happened in front of another dinner guest while he was “politely ushering them both up flights of stairs to use the bathroom during the said dinner.” 

“The act was categorically unwelcome and unprovoked – Wiley had barely known me for more than 2 hours by this point and I was wearing a modest dark green kaftan. I was stunned and concerned for two reasons: [A] this unsolicited act had occurred in Ghana at my place of work and [B] it was done by a critically celebrated artist who knew the power he wielded and seemed clearly prepared to abuse it. Nevertheless, I placed the situation with awkward humor and the dinner subsequently continued,” he said.

Awuah-Darko, who is also known as “Okuntakinte”, said the second alleged assault was “much more severe and violent.” “Let me now say that, much like other documented victims [survivors] of sexual assault, I did not immediately confront the reality of my abuse as such,” he added.

He also claimed that it took him several months to reconcile with what had happened to him. “Secondly, Given Kehinde’s self-described global recognition as a gay man, formally reporting this assault in a West Africa county like Ghana [where anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments are prevalent] would have been problematic at best – dangerous as worst,” he added.

“In the years that have followed this abuse, I have gaslighted myself, consumed with shame, and even tried to harm myself. I asked myself several questions over and over again before coming out with this.”

Wiley, however, swiftly responded to the allegations, claiming that his relationship with Awuah-Darko was “consensual.” Wiley in a statement to ARTnews also said he would “pursue all legal options to bring the truth to light.”

“Someone I had a brief, consensual relationship with is now making false, disturbing, and defamatory accusations about our time together,” Wiley said. 

“These claims are deeply hurtful to me, and I will pursue all legal options to bring the truth to light and clear my name. These claims are also a slap in the face for all victims of sexual abuse. I have no idea why this individual has decided to target me this way, particularly since he has been trying to be part of my life ever since we met – flying to Nigeria to attend my birthday party, attempting to visit my home in upstate in New York, sending me warm and cordial text messages, and almost a year-ago to the day attending my exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and posting to Instagram that the show by his ‘dear friend’ was ‘breathtaking.’ He has posted extensively on Instagram about his struggles with mental illness and I hope he gets help with whatever he is going through. I will vigorously defend my name and reputation.”

Awuah-Darko similarly responded to the 47-year-old’s statement. “Reconciling with the painful reality of Kehinde’s assault against me was something that I only accepted in late October 2023, when I confided in one of my best friends, who is a gallerist. That is how recent my acceptance of my assault was and after years of therapy over time,” Awuah-Darko said in a statement to ARTnews.

“My relationship with Kehinde in months and moments prior to my epiphany of the abuse I experienced under his hand, would have been friendly and even cordial; whether it was the birthday party he invited me to or discussions about the possibility of meeting. Much like his OTHER VICTIMS. I think it is important to constantly challenge the misconception that a sexual predator is a complete stranger. There is evidence to show that almost over 90% of sexual abuse cases reported are those where victims know the predator intimately or as family or a friend. I am of sound mind and stand by the integrity of statement today.”

Awuah-Darko’s allegations come after he initially took to Instagram to share that he had been sexually assaulted by “someone who outranks me.” He, however, did not refer to Wiley in that post. He also asked people to contribute towards his current and “projected legal fees [ our target is $200,000].”

Wiley, who was born in Los Angeles, California to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, was once described by the Columbus Museum of Art as an award-winning artist whose heroic portraits “address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.”

One of his greatest works is the 2005 “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps”, which was based on the Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David. He was also selected by former U.S. President Barack Obama to do his official portrait for The Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 20, 2024


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