With illuminating colors and vibrant brush strokes, former President Obama’s portraitist, Kehinde Wiley, continues to empower people of the world through his art. As he has done times before, Wiley, 42, paints in a way that modernizes classical formulas and challenges oppression/privilege complexes while uplifting people of color and other minority groups.
For the past year, Wiley has lived on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. Recently, the American artist released in Paris at Galerie Templon a series entitled Tahiti, where he showcases paintings depicting a group from the island’s Māhū community who identify outside of the male and female gender binary. Wiley, dancing on the line between contemporary and traditional, paints intoxicatingly and boldly. Many of his paintings flash botanical backgrounds and borders which elegantly highlight the subject of each piece, capturing the beauty and complexities of a people who’ve been under/misrepresented for too long.
“Pre-colonially, before the French presence in Tahiti, the Māhū community was considered to be a very useful and very necessary part of the conversation about gender,” Wiley said in a recent interview with Hunger magazine. “It was a third gender that was necessary, and it continues to be in the 21st century.”
According to the artist, art itself is about communication. And what he does so compellingly through portraiture is tell the stories of black and brown people across the world. His paintings eradicate the societal eroticism and exotification around minorities and places marginalized groups of people in a light they have always deserved. Wiley’s parley with the dynamics of power, race, and gender is not limited to just his artwork alone. On May 26, Wiley launched Black Rock, an artist residency program in Dakar, Senegal. The initiative will run from June 2019 through February 2020, inviting international visual artists to attend a one to three month stay joining Kehinde Wiley himself in the studio. Any artist surrounded by Wiley’s energy and creative genius is certain to do great things.
*Credit for featured photo of Galerie Templon to B. Huet/Tutti