By Walter Rutledge
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn,is an overview of the artist’s prolific fourteen-year career featuring sixty paintings and sculptures. The works represent Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women of color set in the style of the Old Masters. Wiley has replaced the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African-Americans from historical and cultural narratives.
The subjects in Wiley’s paintings often wear sneakers, hoodies, and baseball caps, gear associated with hip-hop culture. He set these urban subjects against contrasting ornate decorative backgrounds evoking earlier eras and a range of cultures. The visual outcome is a stunning transformation where Wiley takes people who are socially invisible and gives them a regal aura.
By refining these individuals Wiley raises questions about race, gender, and the politics. Many of Wiley’s subjects were individuals, often strangers he encounters on the street, and then asked to sit for portraits. He refers to this process as “street casting”. Wiley allows the subject to decide on a pose from art books, which gives them a measure of control over the way they’re portrayed.
Adewale Adekanbi, a model, aspiring actor, photographer and Out and About NYC Magazine Co-Founder; began working with Wiley in 2009. Both men are Americans of Nigerian descent; Wiley’s father is from Akwa Ibom State and Adekanbi’s father is from Mushin Lagos state. “Wale (Adekanbi) is one of my favorite models”, says Wiley.
Wale With Adewale
The actual creative process consisted of photographing Adekanbi in numerous poses from many angles. The photographs were the used to generation a three-dimensional image. “Kehinde wanted a range of poses and facial expressions and we worked for a few hours”, explained Adekanbi. Wiley also created an oil portrait of Adekanbi which is not on display in this exhibition. Adekanbi added, “The first I saw my portrait I felt like I was an untold story finish revealed”.
The exhibition runs through May 24, 2015 at Brooklyn Museum, Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery on the 5th Floor. For more information and directions visit brooklynmuseum.org.