“SORT-OF A PLAY ON THE ‘KILL-WHITEY’ THING”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 13, 2018) — On October 13 of last year, the “Newsdesk” at The Smithsonian Institution announced that two artists had been commissioned to paint the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, respectively, selected by them personally.
Barack Obama chose Kehinde Wiley, who The Smithsonian said “has frequently portrayed young African American men wearing the latest in hip-hop street fashion. His rich, highly saturated color palette and his use of decorative patterns complement his realistic, yet expressive, likenesses. The theatrical poses and props Wiley assigns to his subjects make references to iconic portraits of powerful figures by Western artists.”
On Tuesday the media began to uncover and report that Wiley has depicted two black women holding the severed heads of white women in triumphal poses. After conducting some research on the reports, this writer found Wiley’s website to have been unavailable on Tuesday afternoon and evening. However, his work is displayed here and here.
While the right-leaning Washington Times titled its article “Barack Obama’s portrait artist Kehinde Wiley painted black women beheading white women,” the left-leaning Washington Post published an opinion column titled, “A surprising influence on Obama’s portrait: Abraham Lincoln” which begins, “Kehinde Wiley’s spectacular new portrait of Barack Obama speaks to the resolute seriousness of the former president, and at the same time, it radiates a sparkling freshness.”
An artist’s critique of the painting from various perspectives is titled, “Bad News: Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Barack Obama Is a Bummer.”
In 2015, the website culturetype.com reported that Wiley was awarded a “Medal of Arts” from then-Secretary of State John Kerry. He was described in a subsequent article published by the same source as “A globetrotting clotheshorse whose paintings sell for six figures” and to have “studios in Beijing, Senegal and Brooklyn, where the aesthetic is starving artist chic.”
In a 2012 New York Magazine article in which the author interviewed Wiley while in his Beijing stuido, Wiley is said to be homosexual and have a father from Africa. [Editor’s Note: The article contains language which some readers will find offensive.]
Obama’s life narrative states that his father was from Kenya. Neither man reportedly knew his father as a child.
Ironically, Wiley’s father’s last name is reported to be “Obot.”
New York‘s article begins:
In a soaring studio on the outskirts of Beijing, where Kehinde Wiley came in 2006 to set up the first of his several global production outposts, the 35-year-old painter is showing off his women. Most of them are still incomplete—their faces need touching up, their gowns (custom-designed for his models by Givenchy) lack texture. But one already stands out: a tall, elegant black woman in a long blue dress—the canvas is enormous, eight feet by ten feet—calmly staring down the viewer. In one hand, she holds a knife. In the other, a cleanly severed brunette female head. “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley says.
While Wiley is based in New York City, Beijing is said to be “his second home.” He admittedly does not create his works from start to finish, but rather, employs assistants whose identities and extent of participation in his projects Wiley prefers not to divulge, according to New York.
On Monday, TIME reported that “at age 12, in 1989, Wiley was one of 50 American children who went to live in Russia at the Center for U.S./U.S.S.R. Initiatives. There, he studied art and Russian language. He eventually attended the San Francisco Art Institute, and studied art in graduate school at Yale.”
“Russia” was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
On Tuesday afternoon, The Post & Email reached out to one of the media contacts at The Smithsonian, Concetta Duncan, with the following email:
I understand that The Smithsonian announced last fall that the above artist was “chosen” to paint Barack Obama’s official portrait.
Another report linked to yours states that Obama himself made that choice.
Are you aware that Wiley has painted black women holding the severed heads of white women? Were you aware of it when the “choice” was made?
Are you aware that Mr. Wiley explained the motivation behind those paintings by saying, according to New York Magazine, ” “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,”
Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
Wiley’s website continues to show an error message as of press time.