Curated by Christophe Leribault, the exhibition Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence is hosted at Fondazione Giorgio Cini
on the occasion of the 59th Biennale di Venezia. For this new body of work, Wiley sheds light on the brutalities of American and global colonial pasts using the language of the fallen hero.
The exhibition will include a collection of new monumental paintings and sculptures, expanding on his body of work DOWN from 2008. Initially inspired by Holbeins painting The Dead Christ in the Tomb as well as historical paintings and sculptures of fallen warriors and figures in the state of repose, Wiley created an unsettling series of prone Black bodies, re-conceptualizing classical pictorial forms to create a contemporary version of monumental portraiture, resounding with violence, pain, and death, as well as ecstasy.
For this new body of work, Wiley has expanded these core thematic elements to meditate on the deaths of young Black men slain all over the world. Technology allows viewers to witness these graphic depictions of violence against the Black body that were once silenced. Wiley states, That is the archaeology I am unearthing: The spectre of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world. In light of the current global conflicts, language concerning power struggles and inalienable human rights are more critical than ever.
The new portraits depict young Black men and women in positions of vulnerability that tell a story of survival and resilience, revealing the beauty that can emerge from the horrific. These poses, borrowed from Western European art historical sources, function as beautiful elegies echoing a central metaphor of youth and resilience and stand as monuments to endurance and perseverance in the face of savagery, incorporating a scale that pushes beyond the mere corporeal and into the realm of spiritual icons, of martyrs and saints.
The exhibition is curated by Christophe Leribault, President of the Musée dOrsay and Musée de lOrangerie, who organized Kehinde Wiley: Lamentation, Wileys first exhibition in France at the Petit Palais in 2016. As an art historian specializing in 19th century, Leribault has a deep connection to the art historical underpinnings of Wileys work.
Kehinde Wiley An Archeology of Silence is part of the Collateral Events of the 59th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemani, that will open to the public on 23 April 2022. Organizing institution: Musée dOrsay, Paris. Supported by TEMPLON.
« Nowadays, we finally speak about this violence against the Black body that was once silenced. I want to go further than just painting the spectre of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people. » --Kehinde Wiley
Why and how did this project in Venice come together?
I was initially asked by Christophe Leribault to participate in the Venice Biennale to expand upon an exhibition that we created at the Petit Palais in 2016. This idea dovetailed quite nicely with my ambition to revisit the Down series, perhaps one of my most charged exhibitions, that explored ideas of power, mortality and race.
You already worked in the year 2017 on the tomb effigies, why coming back to these now and with this specific project ?
While this work is not specifically about tomb effigies, it does relate to death, mortality, powerlessness and the downcast figure - the juxtaposition of death and decay in the midst of a narrative of youth and redemption. It is an expression of my desire to depict the struggles of Black and brown youth globally, through the rubric of violence and power.
How does Venice and the long-time importance of the city in history and art history inspired you for this new body of work?
Artists have been inspired by Venice for centuries; Im no exception. The sheer size, scale and spectacle of the site inspires work that pushes the limits of whats possible. In this body of work you will see aesthetics taken to a level of muscularity that Ive never approached hereto-fore.
How did you choose the models for this series specifically?
The series was conceptualized nearly three years ago at the advent of the pandemic while I was under lockdown in Dakar. Subsequently all the models are Senegalese. This adds a unique African element to the project, which necessarily globalizes the conversation surrounding the buried silence surrounding violence and inequality