Many of the reasons why I choose certain sites have to do with a level of curiosity, but it also has to do with their broader, global, political, importance—strategically for America and the world community at large. One of the reasons I chose Brazil and Nigeria and India and China is that these are all the points of anxiety and curiosity and production that are going on in the world, that are changing the way we see empire.
Kehinde Wiley is best known for his large-scale portraits of young urban men presented in the grand scale and style of classical European portraiture. For his ambitious global project The World Stage, Wiley has created series of portraits in China, Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, and Israel. In each series he “street-casted” young men, who appear in the paintings wearing their own clothing and surrounded by intricate backgrounds.
In the first World Stage series, Wiley painted African American models in poses based on propaganda posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The World Stage: China characteristically juxtaposes elements of contemporary global hip-hop culture with local symbols of power and authority. In Africa and Brazil, models assume the poses of highly visible public sculptures in their respective communities. The decorative backgrounds for these series are inspired by traditional and popular fabrics that trace each region’s particular history of colonization. For The World Stage: India–Sri Lanka, Wiley explored the history of colonialism more specifically, inserting his subjects into historical paintings that were intended to aggrandize European empire building across the globe. Wiley’s latest series, Israel, delves into issues faced by the immigrant community of Ethiopian Jews, as well as native-born Jews and Arab Israelis. In each of these portraits, the background is inspired by Jewish ceremonial art of eastern Europe, the heritage of Israel’s dominant ethnic group.
Kehinde Wiley. Photo: Kwaku Alston. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.
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