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On View: Kehinde Wiley’s “The World Stage: Haiti” at Roberts & Tilton

Kehinde Wiley's (Hi-Fructose Vol. 29) opulent portraiture subtly stirs the status quo. As an American artist, Wiley honed his craft in accordance with a legacy of Euro-centric art history that left him simultaneously awed and alienated. One would be hard-pressed to find a grandiose portrait of a person of color in the works of the Renaissance masters in the Met or the Louvre. This is the motivating factor of Wiley's oeuvre: to elevate images of average people of African descent through his ornate depictions, exposing the singular beauty of his subjects through dramatic compositions that evoke the Baroque period.


Kehinde Wiley. The Marchioness of Santa Cruz (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014 Oil on linen
36.5 x 72 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

Kehinde Wiley’s (Hi-Fructose Vol. 29) opulent portraiture subtly stirs the status quo. As an American artist, Wiley honed his craft in accordance with a legacy of Euro-centric art history that left him feeling simultaneously awed and alienated. One would be hard-pressed to find a grandiose portrait of a person of color in the works of the Renaissance masters in the Met or the Louvre. This is the motivating factor of Wiley’s oeuvre: to elevate images of average people of African descent through his ornate depictions, exposing the singular beauty of his subjects through dramatic compositions that evoke the Baroque period.

While he started out this aesthetic exploration by scouting subjects in major US cities, Wiley’s art has taken him all over the world to work with people of the global African diaspora. His latest series, “The World Stage: Haiti” is currently on view at Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Culver City and features 12 new paintings based on his recent travels.

During his stay in Haiti, Wiley put out open calls for models on the radio and through posters on the streets of Jacmel, Jalouise and Port-au-Prince. He received an overwhelming response that enabled him to host his own beauty pageant along the lines of local tradition. In Haiti, beauty contests serve as major public gatherings — a factor that falls in line with Wiley’s artistic goals.

The new series focuses solely on female subjects (unlike his past work, which mostly features men). Contrary to the typical media depictions of Haiti as a ravaged, poverty-stricken nation, Wiley’s portraits show women with confident body language that implies resilience and strength. Wiley appropriates the visual language of Haiti’s former European colonists (the country was once under French and Spanish rule) to elevate the formerly colonized, weaving elements of Haitian folk art and even plant life into his Baroque-inspired portraiture.

Watch a video from Wiley’s travels to Haiti below and see “The World Stage: Haiti” through October 25 at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City, CA.

Kehinde Wiley. Jupiter and Thetis (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen.
84 x 63 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

Kehinde Wiley. Portrait of Anne Cynthia Petit Vil (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen. 60 x 48 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

Kehinde Wiley. The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen. 84 x 63 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.


Kehinde Wiley. Venus at Paphos (The World Stage: Haiti). 2014. Oil on linen. 60 x 48 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

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