Visual Culture: Kehinde Wiley Takes On Jamaica

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October 16, 2013

Words by Jesse Serwerโ€”


While the world obsesses over Banksy’s public art project/publicity stunt in New York, one of New York’s best artists is over in Banksy’s homebase of London showing work thatโ€”to us at leastโ€”is a whole lot more interesting. Kehinde Wiley has become fine-art royalty over the last decade through his paintings that depict young black men, sporting contemporary fashions, in a style that references classic “Old Masters” portraits of European nobility. Although Wiley’s breakthrough work concentrated on African-American men, he has since taken his concept on the road, embarking on similar projects depicting everyday people in Brazil, Israel, Nigeria and Senegal, among other places.

For his latest exhibition, he’s ventured to Jamaica. The island has been muse to many artists, but JA is a place where moggling is a sportโ€”a place perfectly suited to Wiley’s method, in which he casts for models literally on the street. The World Stage: Jamaica also differs from many of Wiley’s previous exhibitions in that it features a mixture of women and menโ€” perhaps an acknowledgment of the assertive role females have always played in Jamaican society and public life.

The show, which is being presented in conjunction with Wiley’s first solo exhibition in the U.K., had its launch last night at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, where it will stay until a month from today. We’re curious to hear what Wiley has to say about his trip to Jamaica (the show also includes a film “follow[ing] the artist on research trips to London, and then onto Jamaica [where] it follows him to underground dance halls, Negril beach and downtown Kingston as he searches for the models for his paintings”) and even more interested to see where this show heads next. Jamaican people, we hope, will get an opportunity to see Wiley’s depiction of them up close.

Click here to scroll through the gallery of portraits from the show.