Kadir Nelson, the African-American artist who captured 200 years of history in a single painting

Stephen Nartey November 11, 2022
Kadir Nelson's painting, "Ancient Wonders of the World," is featured on the November 2021 cover of National Geographic. Image via Kadir Nelson/Twitter

The painting named the ‘Ancient Wonders of the World’ by Kadir Nelson, an African-American author and artist, shines a light on the rich history of human existence over a period of 200 years. 

The artistic work captures the ancient history of Egypt, its temples, its groundbreaking architecture, the story its rock art on its walls tells, and artifacts from various cultures. Nelson told the National Geographic that he wanted the art to be perceived as a journey of a hero adding that, the untold stories scattered over the time capsule were the driving force behind the paintings. 

Unlike other works of art that dwell on the people connected to the ancient excavations, Nelson touched solely on the historical relics that lived within the times. He explained that people may not understand his preference for what found space in his paintings, but, underneath are the lived experiences of people through hundreds of years the world needs to know about. 

The Ancient Wonders of the World, according to Nelson, is akin to a labyrinth that charges people to explore visually in a comprehensive way. He indicated that explains why it has various dimensions on each layer one casts their eyes on adding that, he placed a central character in the art to aid anyone who comes to observe its intrinsic details. 

He said he designed the paintings with clear anchor points in mind, with horizon line leading art lovers from the brightest spots on the paintings to the dim parts. He cited the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico to the figure symbols on the Pompeii volcano and how the elements of lights played upon them. 

Nelson said the paintings are a reflection of his feelings and his sense of aesthetics which came to play in how the paintings were put together. According to him, he wanted people to appreciate the life embedded within the paintings and their ability to accommodate new discoveries. 

He said the reason the story of King Taharqa, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt in the kingdom of Kush, found its way into the painting is because of the intriguing history he represents. The image of Taharqa surely hits any art lover upon a first glance at the Ancient Wonders of the World as the sun and water horizon act as an anchor on his flanks. 

He then plotted at least 37 of the 100 discoveries around the focal points in the painting. His satisfaction lies in how the various histories are structured from the Native American stone paintings to King Tut, Titanic, Stonehenge and China’s terracotta army. 

Nelson said the work kind of gives someone enough to engage their thoughts as they make a tour through the puzzles of the painting. He describes his artwork as a movie with various scenes placed in one finite timeline. He said the painting simply strings the past with its history and moments on one timeline and brings one to a spot where they appreciate the essence of the story being told. 

He is optimistic that everyone who engages with the painting will discover something worth their while and time and understand what ancient history means to their very existence. The African-American artist’s other objective is that the Ancient Wonders of the World will encourage people to learn about human civilization which stretches over two centuries.

Nelson’s paintings have been featured on the covers of The New Yorker and National Geographic. One can also find his artwork can also be found in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Conversations

Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates