If you’ve been to the Columbus Museum of Art, the work of Kehinde Wiley probably looks familiar to you.
At the CMA, you can see “Portrait of Andries Stilte II”, a massive work by Wiley hanging in the Walter Wing.
The celebrated artist has been painting with his iconic and colorful style for years, shining his own, unique light on black culture and identity. But it is his most recent work, a portrait of President Obama, that is making waves.
— Christina Coleman (@ChrissyCole) February 12, 2018
Over all, reactions to the artist and painting were positive.
Can we talk about how stunningly powerful it is to see a black man in a garden the way Kehinde Wiley painted Barack Obama?!
It dismantles so much and creates new visions of masculinity that black men rarely have the public permission to explore. pic.twitter.com/pwycHtbbDX
— Brittany Packnett (@MsPackyetti) February 12, 2018
The Obama portraits are an important marker. The fact that they chose Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint them matters — in fact it's huge — and underscores the former first couple's longtime championing of contemporary black artists. More here: https://t.co/LRHoWh3iqp pic.twitter.com/oXFt9m8KzD
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) February 12, 2018
UNVEILED TODAY: So moving.
Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, amazing. pic.twitter.com/NZrknQzH25
— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) February 12, 2018
These official portraits of @BarackObama and @MichelleObama are stunning. Congratulations to @kehindewiley on becoming the first person of color to paint a presidential portrait that will hang in the @nationalportraitgallery. pic.twitter.com/iuZwoJGMP4
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 12, 2018
Of course, instead of talking about the art in a constructive way, some decided to take a look through Wiley’s backlog and cry “outrage” at some of his previous works, specifically a series called “An Economy of Grace”.
Within the series, which was Wiley’s first inclusion of women into his work, one particular portrait has people lashing out. The painting is Wiley’s twist on the Judith and Holofernes. It shows model, Triesha Lowe holding the severed head of a white woman, who just happens to be Wiley’s assistant.
Interesting to see all these fake christians squawking about #KehindeWiley's paintings of black women beheading white women. They are interpretations of Judith and Holofernes, and if you knew your bible, it might make more sense to you. Shoutout to Caravaggio. pic.twitter.com/RJHhNVwMdJ
— Drama Del Rey (@MXTTTHXMPSXN) February 13, 2018
Kehinde is well known for his frequent references to historical art in his work, not just in the instance mentioned above. Here’s an example of his interpretation of Napoleon.
Kehinde Wiley is famous for transposing the grandeur of western portraiture of white people onto African Americans and people of color- the historically disenfranchised, the people whose bodies and labor paid for those portraits. Like his Napoleon. 1/ pic.twitter.com/9MIH7RByr0
— Emily Corwin (@EmilyCorwin1) February 13, 2018