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“I try to create a place of disorientation.”

–Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley painting

Kehinde Wiley painting

New York-based painter Kehinde Wiley is changing the game for what Black representation in western art looks like. Using traditionally European styles of artwork, such as stained-glass windows, oil paintings and bronze sculptures, he weaves contemporary Black people into his work, juxtaposing two cultures while reimagining who indeed gets to be the muse in “classic art.”  Many of Wiley’s subjects look nothing like your average museum patron, who we usually imagine as white and middle/upper class. He refers to this phenomenon as the “politics of perception.” His work changes the way blackness is portrayed in art, showing that modern Black folks are just as worthy of being portrayed in a stained glass window as they are in a street mural.

Ice T by Kehinde Wiley.

Ice T (left) by Kehinde Wiley.

Art by Kehinde Wiley

Wiley understands that art is about power, and he unapologetically inserts the power of his Black subjects into the traditional lily-white museum world. In an interview with NPR, he was asked why he uses Black people in particular when painting in a classic style. He said:

“What I wanted to do was to look at the powerlessness that I felt as — and continue to feel at times — as a black man in the American streets. I know what it feels like to walk through the streets, knowing what it is to be in this body, and how certain people respond to that body. This dissonance between the world that you know, and then what you mean as a symbol in public, that strange, uncanny feeling of having to adjust for … this double consciousness.”

Art by Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley sculpture

This duality indeed shows up in his work and forces the viewer to question stereotypes and see glory in blackness when it is usually stigmatized. Shine on, Mr. Wiley!


Heather was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena, California and proudly claims Oakland as her adopted home. She has a B.A. in African-American Studies from Smith College (proud Smithie), and a Masters in Education Leadership from New York University. Heather's spent the past decade working in the field of educational equity and advocacy. She currently teaches Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University and manages a blog called What's Happening Black Oakland? She also contributes to Blavity, a blog for black millennials. Heather's committed to writing interesting and relevant stories that aren't being covered by the mainstream media, while straying away from the single story that is usually imposed on people of color. In her free time she enjoys traveling and going to live shows.

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