“Sexuality and Race” The Art of Kehinde Wiley
Today we will take a look at the work of world renowned figurative artist, Kehinde Wiley. I’ve written blogs in the past about his work, but this one will examine Wiley in a context, I feel is neglected from most other write ups.
Kehinde Wiley has become famous from remixing classical works into contemporary images, where black males replace the former subjects (usually a non black king, queen, etc). The only time I think he broke from this tradition was in his exhibition “World Stage” in which he used the classic compositions of iconic art from whatever country he was visiting at the moment.
His paintings are huge, usually in excess of 10 ft in height and length; they follow the tradition of history painting (historically only paintings of this size where created to describe historical or biblical accounts). In the art world this seems to be the thing that has attracted buyers and art enthusiast alike. Wiley puts contemporary urban black men in positions of power and in history. His works are grand, but they are not simple. People love to focus on just the “race card”.
In the majority of the critiques of his work, nowhere is it discussed the blatant sexual and homoerotic overtones of Wiley’s images. Looking at this work in books or on the internet is one thing, but in person, it’s so obvious!
A lot of art writers live on their own planet and see everything in terms art theory, historical comparison & analysis, in the tradition of other works. Seldom have I read about someone looking at his art in terms of contemporary pop culture (or those of you who are bigots and look down on homosexuality, “not so popular culture).
Let’s be frank. These men are gay! Their poses are feminine. They have arched eye brows and shinny lips. These are “homothugs”, a term used to describe males, usually minorities, who adopt hip hop culture, style of dress, music etc. as a more idealized form of masculinity, to counter other stereotypes on gay culture.
Kehinde Wiley’s work is amazing! No doubt! Who cares if the figures are gay men? Not me. Well apparently Wiley does. He makes it clear without an ounce of subtlety.
Look at his work:
Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps ”Oil on Canvas
9 ft x 9ft
compared to the original
BonAparte Crossing the Alps
102 1/3 inches x 87 inches
To the naked eye this simply a reimaging of David’s image with a black man. The main difference is the main character and the decorative wall paper background. What isn’t as obvious are the dozens of little sperm cells that float around the canvas helping to make up the decorative almost Rococo-esque background.
The frame itself was made especially for the canvas, or was purchased from the strangest frame shop ever! At each corner of the frame is an egg like orb with sperm cells crawling on the them.
Directly at the top of the frame in the center is a carved human head with a hat like form on top of it in the shape of a penis. On each side of the head are these 2 worm like carved forms that also look like…..um let’s just say they too have very phallic qualities about them.
Now am I reading too much into this? Nope! That guy is gay, that’s sperm, and those are definitely dicks! I mean but hey! Who doesn’t like the occasional dick thrown into their fine art?
So why write a blog to point out these things? Well, because no one else did. The art world looks at these images as extremely strong statements of race and identity. The thing is they choose to look with limited vision. Kehinde Wiley not only creates monumental paintings of black men in power, but he also creates monumental paintings of gay men in power, and they are fabulous!