'Kehinde Wiley's works replace paintings' historical white subjects...'"It is the way we express ourselves in our art, which seeks out the thoughtful and reflective, rather than the opportunisticness of self/collective adulation that infests so much of non-White art."
Black faces are rarely seen on the walls of art museums. Contemporary painter Kehinde Wiley is singlehandedly changing that. His paintings that marry historical portraits of popes, emperors and saints and replace the decrepit old white guys with handsome young African-American men in the same poses are changing the demographics of art-museum representation.
Three of his large, arresting portraits of street toughs dressed in sagging jeans and hoodies posed on horses like conquering heroes are hanging on the walls of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It's one of the most dynamic "Focus" shows in the Modern's history.
Wiley's subjects look down from the walls with imperious expression. On the street, they would look dangerous, but on canvas, the proud bearing and haughtiness mimics that of the original sitters. No one is reaching out to this disenfranchised group to include them in the art canon the way Wiley does.More blatant are the filigree scrolls that twine through the paintings. The rococo and baroque patterns are wealth's signature from another era, but they might as well be dollar signs. They also flatten the depth of field. In doing so, they compress time, moving the historical forward so that the whole becomes a statement of power, wealth and supremacy for the contemporary African-American man.
(It's also interesting to note that Mr. Wiley is forced to "re-paint" portraits of White historical figures because no black equivalents exist.)
Thomas Jefferson wrote of the negro, "In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection....They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory....But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration...his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric, as is the course of a meteor through the sky. His subjects should often have led him to a process of sober reasoning: yet we find him always substituting sentiment for demonstration".
It is not surprising to find that adult blacks have, in times past, generally been perceived to have the emotional and mental attributes of a child. And, sure enough, IQ testing has consistently demonstrated that the average adult black male has an IQ that is less than that of the average 14 year old White male.
Just a stereotype?
No. A stereotype proven true by facts.
As Patrick Grimm has written, "Stereotypes do not equal bigotry, narrow-mindedness or hatred. Stereotypes are the wisdom of our forefathers inarticulately phrased and applied generally to different groups within a population.
For instance, segregation was not supported by our ancestors because they hated people of African descent, but because they knew something that we still know, but that our media has told us to forget again. The amnesia of our folk has been imbued into our consciousness in so many ways.... The dashing, dulling and dismembering of stereotypes can cause the death of many things, including historical memory......Stereotypes are too closely aligned with what kitsch self-congratulators in Jewish-tinged (at least ideologically) academia would call (egads!) common sense. Yet without these smidgens of common sense, we cannot anticipate dangers, play the odds or gauge probabilities."
Mr. Wiley's ideas are not original, and he himself, in his striving to engineer a false reality for africans (think, Kwanzaa, or afrocentrism in general), has reinforced a longstanding, time tested stereotype.
To understand where all of this leads, see this...