Kehinde Wiley | Portrait of Savannah Essah
The present portrait of a young Afro-British woman called Savannah Essah is a classic example of Kehinde Wiley’s unique painting practice which has evolved over the last twenty years and is now celebrated in major institutional exhibitions around the world.
Containing new and original visual content, this viewing room delves deeper into Wiley’s work and gives a personal context to both artist and sitter, breathing life into a portraiture practice that is at once original and deeply historic.
"Black women have always been at the core of my thinking around portraiture. You see so many portraits where the male figure stands dominant at the forefront of the painting and women, children and land are seen in equal measure as possessions. In my own work, the women are strident, they take the front, but there's also a sense of mystery. We don't really know who these women are."
- Kehinde Wiley, on the occasion of 'Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic', Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY (2015)
The Museum Installation
"I always think of the background as a character within the picture. It’s demanding space in as much as the figure itself is demanding space. It becomes a kind of signifier of defiance, the desire to be present, the desire to be radically present."
- Kehinde Wiley, in conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, The National Portrait Gallery, London (2017)
“I began to take the DNA of [William] Morris and build upon it to create hybrids of my own, these kind of all over patterns that feel random and chaotic as opposed to that very rational order you see in traditional Morris prints"
- Kehinde Wiley
‘No pattern should be without some sort of meaning’
- William Morris
KEHINDE WILEY, b. 1977, United States
Kehinde Wiley engages the visual rhetoric of the powerful, majestic and sublime in his vibrant and highly naturalistic paintings of contemporary African-American and African-Diasporic men and women. His figures adopt heroic poses directly referencing European and American paintings, subverting the hierarchies and conventions of classical portraiture.
Wiley received his MFA from Yale University in 2001. Shortly after, he became an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. In 2015 he was awarded the US State Department Medal of Arts. In 2018 he received the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal at Harvard University, Massachusetts. In June 2019 he was honoured by The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York. Wiley is the Founder and President of Black Rock Senegal, a non-profit artist in residence program located in Dakar, Senegal.
Wiley's work features in the permanent collections of numerous prominent institutions including The Jewish Museum, New York; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn; Studio Museum, Harlem; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City; Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis, Missouri; Seattle Museum of Art, Seattle; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and The Zabludowicz Collection, London, England.