Kehinde Wiley, American, born 1977
oil on canvas
Museum purchase with funds provided by Contemporary Forum (ArtPick 2009) in honor of the Museum's 50th Anniversary
© Phoenix Art Museum. All rights reserved. Photo by Ken Howie.
© Kehinde Wiley Studio and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California
Katz Wing, First Floor, Contemporary Art
The poses of the two young men in this portrait by Kehinde Wiley are adapted from two figures at the base of a famous, monument sculpture dedicated to the military marshal and second President of Brazil, Floriano Peixoto. Located in a prominent public plaza in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the figure of Peixoto is surrounded by sculpted anonymous archetypes that include an indigenous man and woman who provide the model for this painting.
This painting and the others from Wiley’s series The World Stage: Brazil were created during the artist’s 2008-2009 residency in Brazil. As with Wiley’s previous work, this portrait confronts the idea of how power is defined and represented. In past work, Wiley has depicted African American males in poses drawn from iconic and art-historically important portraits of rich, powerful and usually white men. The Afro-Brazilian men in this portrait are residents of Rio’s favelas slums. Yet, in contrast to the historical source upon which their portrait is based, the men in Wiley’s painting stare boldly back at the viewer. Their monumental size further heightens the sense of the men’s empowerment.
Wiley’s work forces the viewer to confront the way that colonialism marginalizes indigenous peoples by labeling them exotic. Despite their humble social origins, the men in this portrait are transformed into symbols of power and valor that transcend their country’s history.