Safra

Kehinde Wiley’s genius

In art, culture on April 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm


Life and art. The year was 2006. Through an art alliance, I was (mildly) schooled about a collective of black artists. Kehinde Wiley was one of them. But I was so fascinated by just knowing their names, I don’t think I even really appreciated their craft. Wiley’s works of young, hip-hop Adonis’s on large scale canvases was avant-garde to me. And I felt obligated to join his movement. When I wrote for Format Magazine, a popular streetwear blog, I hunted Wiley’s Gallery Assistant to get an interview. I was a Music Journalist, and to me, his work would resonate with my audience. Match made in heaven? I concur.

The interview never happened. I moved on. I felt the connection between contemporary art and hip-hop was transparent. One (art) used the other (hip-hop) as a segue into an otherwise unaccessible circle. And if you’re as passionate about hip-hop as I am, you can see through the facade.


However, after coming across Wiley’s collaboration with Puma in 2010 – albeit in connection to the World Cup – and his increasing coverage in Vibe and other urban publications, I felt he had an epiphany. Maybe he realized the importance of connecting with youth culture. Who may ultimately be connected to hip-hop. I’m sure you’ll argue that Wiley was in Vibe back in `95, when he was young and hungry. But does that really count? You’ll have to ask a generation more interested in YouTube than back issues. And now that I look at his work, it’s frou-frou. All pretty, frilly and erotic. I don’t expect a Rick Ross fan to dig his work, though they might. And though I see Wiley attempts to romanticize young black men, even drawing reference to a royal linage, there’s also an sense of emasculation.


Don’t get me wrong, Wiley is talented – obviously. And he’s only of the extremely lucky few – despite race, creed and all that jazz – who have been able to sustain a lucrative career from their passion. But after a bit of cultivation, my perspective of Wiley’s work is a lot different than give years ago.

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