The world is full of injustice that often goes unseen and undocumented. History is, more often than not written by the victors. The oppressed don’t write history books, but their stories live on. Passed from generation to generation, like the oppressed, their stories persevere. The narrative is now shifting, and previously oppressed voices express themselves boldly and proudly. Black History Month is a time to showcase the heroes who dig up the stories buried by the victors and ignored by the history books.

Ships On A Stormy Sea by Kehinde Wiley. Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley Studio.

Kehinde Wiley, a modern African-American visual artist, was born in Los Angeles in 1977. He has received international praise for his bold depictions of African American and African diasporic people which actively challenges and reinterprets European and American portraiture conventions. In 2018, Wiley made history as the first African-American artist to paint an official U.S. Presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, depicting former President Barack Obama. In 2019, Wiley debuted Rumors of War, his first large-scale public sculpture in New York, Times Square, honouring the heroism of young black men in America.

Wiley engages with the cultural landscape, celebrating black and brown identities through his art and initiatives, using his platform to address race, power, and identity while promoting international artistic collaboration. In doing so, Wiley contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

Rumours of War, Times Square by Kehinde Wiley. Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley Studio.

In 2019, Wiley established Black Rock Senegal, a multimodal artist-in-residence program in Dakar, Senegal. The program, named after the volcanic rocks on its shoreline, aims to stimulate artistic collaboration and innovation by hosting foreign artists for residencies. The purpose of Black Rock is to fund new artistic work while encouraging a global conversation about Africa's contemporary significance. Wiley's connection to Africa and his desire to create outside of the Western perspective inspired him to create this space for creative exploration and dialogue. 

Morpheus by Kehinde Wiley. Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley Studio.

Wiley’s most recent exhibition, An Archaeology of Silence, features a mix of paintings and sculptures built on his work since 2008. This art collection is inspired by historical images of fallen warriors and humans in repose. Wiley's series depicts black bodies in a prone position, evoking ideas of brutality, suffering, death, ecstasy, and perseverance. Wiley adopts styles from Western European art history, immortalizing the oppressed's stories.

An Archeology Of Silence by Kehinde Wiley. Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley Studio.

The exhibition's goal is to present viewers with the stark reality of police violence and governmental control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people around the world. People don’t always see these events occurring, or in some cases, a blind eye is intentionally turned to these incidents. However, with the new age of technology and media, violence and oppression have become all the more available to see, and ignorance is no longer an excuse. Wiley took it upon himself to “dig” up this buried history and present it to the world with honour—that is the archeology he is unearthing.

Prelude by Kehinde Wiley. Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley Studio.

Wiley brilliantly shows that art is not passive—it is a force of engagement, reflection, and potential for a more just and understanding world. Wiley’s legacy is a reminder that while art can reflect the world as it is, it can also envision the world as it should be. 

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