Kehinde Wiley's paintings challenge our conventional views of portraiture by featuring black men in a mix of regal and street poses, using the brightest palette imaginable. The subjects are dressed in their own clothes, but the backdrop is anything but normal.
For his new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, Wiley turned his focus to Israeli youth from a range of ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. Inspired by the traditional Jewish papercuts in the museum's collection, Wiley integrated ritualistic patterns and designs into the 14 new large-scale paintings that make up the "The World Stage: Israel" series.
Kehinde Wiley, "Alios Itzhak (The World Stage: Israel)," 2011, oil and gold enamel on canvas. The Jewish Museum, New York; Purchase: Gift of Lisa and Steven Tananbaum Family Foundation; Gift in honor of Joan Rosenbaum by the Contemporary Judaica, Fine Arts, Photography, and Traditional Judaica Acquisitions Committee Funds, 2011-31.
Wiley created a unique fusion of the orthodox and secular to serve as the catalyst for the paintings. Referencing traditions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, the paintings suggest a variety of influences, but the artist's desire to focus on those on the periphery of all of these regions is the defining characteristic of the series.
The impressive scale of the work becomes Wiley's comment on how we measure power historically and his desire to tip the scales in favor of those who are typically overlooked and unheard. For an artist who has experienced such a meteoric rise (as evidenced by his work for the new Santigold album), Kehinde Wiley's focus remains laser sharp and as his new exhibition suggests, his point won't be dulled anytime soon.
View a slideshow of "The World Stage: Israel" below and let us know what you think of these portraits in the comments section. If you'd like to see it in person, "The World Stage: Israel" will be on display at the Jewish Museum from March 9 - July 29, 2012. You can also check out Wiley's website, where his "World Stage" series features youth in India, China, Lagos, and beyond.