Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley unveils historic sculpture in response to Confederate statues in Times Square

Francis Akhalbey September 30, 2019
Photos via @kehindewiley on Instagram

Known for painting the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama, Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley unveiled a historic and huge bronze statue of a black man on a horse in Times Square on Friday.

Donning streetwear with braided hair/dreadlocks and mounted on a galloping horse, the monument, which is known as “Rumors of War”, is inspired by the disturbing presence of Confederate monuments paying homage to white generals in the United States, The Associated Press reports.

According to Wiley, the idea behind the monument and project came to light when he saw the Confederate statue of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

Located in Richmond, Virginia, the statue, which is a stark reminder of the state’s and America’s slave history, depicts the general in a similar pose as “Rumors of War.”

“I’m a black man walking those streets. I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear. What does that feel like, physically, to walk a public space and to have your state, your country, your nation say, ‘This is what we stand by.’ No. We want more. We demand more,” he said.

“Today we say ‘yes’ to something that looks like us,” he told The Associated Press.

With the aim of buttressing the importance of inclusivity, Wiley added that he hoped young people would see it and “see a sense of radical possibility — this, too, is America.”

The project, which is Wiley’s biggest work to date, will be on display until December 1 before it is permanently moved to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, according to a statement.

'Rumors of War'
Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews

“The inspiration for Rumors of War is war—is an engagement with violence. Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other. Rumors of War attempts to use the language of equestrian portraiture to both embrace and subsume the fetishization of state violence,” Wiley, 42, said in the statement.

“New York and Times Square, in particular, sit at the crossroads of human movement on a global scale. To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

'Rumors of War'
Rumors of War — Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews/ The Associated Press

Wiley is widely known for his exciting, highly naturalistic portraits of African-Americans, including his most popular creations of young African-American men in their latest hip-hop street fashion items.

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1977 to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, he 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.

A few months ago, he launched his new residency program in Senegal. Located in the Yoff Virage village, the Black Rock Senegal building is everything African.

Wiley sanctioned local Senegalese architect Abib Djenne to help design the magnificent building. The interiors were also designed with the assistance of Senegalese designer Aissa Dione.

A standout feature of the residency is its 20-foot-tall main doors, which are made with Amazakoue wood from Cameroon.

Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley unveils historic sculpture in response to Confederate statues in Times Square
Photo via @kehindewiley on Instagram

According to Black Rock Senegal, the residency program will afford selected international visual artists, writers, and filmmakers the opportunity to join and work with Wiley at his studio for between one to three months.

Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley unveils historic sculpture in response to Confederate statues in Times Square
Photo via @kehindewiley on Instagram

Residents will also meet with local artists, artisans, and arts organizations in and outside Dakar.

Black Rock Senegal further states that it “seeks to support new artistic creation by promoting conversations and collaborations that are multigenerational, cross-cultural, international, and cross-disciplinary” and “takes its physical location as a point of departure to incite change in the global discourse around Africa in the context of creative evolution.”

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: September 22, 2020


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