Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition, A New Republic challenges the world’s perspective on traditional standards of beauty in art. Wiley depicts the beauty people of color have and how their presence in art and in the world is equally as important as anyone other racial identity. In this exhibition, Wiley constructs a world where people of color appear to be in traditional European portraiture. He successfully challenges the standards traditional European art by juxtaposing non-traditional subjects in paintings from old masters through a political and contemporary lens. His work contributes to the discourse on racial inequality and challenges the negative perception associated with blackness.
America is a country that has been built on systematic oppression and white supremacy for hundreds of years. One can argue as a nation we have progressed on racial issue through the ending of racial segregation and the civil right movement. However, in our present day society there is still a critical racial divide that intersects with social economic and gender inequality. The recent tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the death of nine church members in Charleston church located in South Carolina have brought to light a global reaction towards racism. Kehinde Wiley raises awareness on race, gender, and economic class and uses his work to comment on the representation of African American men and women. The wall text begins with a quote from Wiley, “Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is a way of saying yes to us.” The curators of this exhibition wanted the viewer to experience this world Wiley created where the aristocrats in his paintings are everyday people of color.
Kehinde Wiley is an important artist in the contemporary art scene because he is using his art as a social platform to express the value of black bodies. His work is important both politically and sociologically, especially in a time where black bodies appear to be disposable due to an increase death rate of black men and women. Art has the ability to encourage social change, and A New Republic is an example of an innovative sociological perspective on traditional European portraitures.
When I first saw the show I was astonished by the detail in his work. At first glance I thought the pieces showcased were photographs. As someone who is racially conscious and socially aware of the racial divide in this country, I was instantly hooked when I saw A New Republic. The intricate detail in Wiley’s paintings and personality shown in his subjects instantly grabbed my attention. In a society where majority of the mainstream media projects ideas of beauty through the eyes of a white patriarchal highbrow heteronormative lens, it becomes extremely limiting to see yourself in that perspective. It was beautiful and refreshing to experience this body of work. I personally strongly recommend this exhibition to everyone, this kind of art is not shown to us on a mainstream platform and it’s important to continuously expand out minds and adapt to new ways of looking at the world.