Sean Kelly in New York presents a body of new works by painter Kehinde Wiley this month, inviting the artist to showcase a series of paintings that continue his interpretation of the western canon and its politics of representation and perspective. Informed by Wiley’s focus on the evolution of Black culture globally, the show draws on the artist’s recent visits to Cuba, and explores the phenomenon of the carnivalesque in Western culture. Referencing a diverse range of artists, the circus, and the power of street performance and dance, the HAVANA paintings focus on the circus as a site of disruption for the rational mind and circus performers who embrace a dynamic and vibrant way of living and being in the world.
The works in the exhibition create a timeline in which political realities, economic hardship, artistic freedom, and the thirst for self-discovery become the catalyst for exploring a nation and culture through painting. In his study of art history and artists who were influenced by the circus, Wiley focused on the carnival as a metaphor for an attenuated and heightened state of being. Circuses are often places in which those who are cultural, religious, or social outcasts find their center. Similarly, artists themselves often occupy a space of being both within culture and on its periphery. In Wiley’s view, depictions of the circus offer a type of self-portraiture that many artists have employed over time.
His signature style and approach remains, transposing portraits of black models into lush, colorful motifs, presenting a range of fashions and cultural touchpoints to subtly interpolate the concept of the circus, the carnival and the performer through a range of varied references. Here, his depictions of performers incorporates references to both Western traditions and that of Raices Profundas, a Cuban performance troupe which is widely regarded as one of the world’s most authentic performing ensembles in the Yoruba tradition. The dancers and musicians have an intense dedication to their company, their art, and its traditions, and here are presented as figureheads, symbols of an artistic tradition that bridges cultural and social frameworks across the Atlantic, and tie together a range of cultures from across the African diaspora.
The show closes June 17th.
– D. Creahan
Kehinde Wiley at Sean Kelly [Exhibition Site]