Summary: Paintings of young people by Kehinde Wiley are an opportunity to move beyond racial stereotypes and into contemplation of real lives.
Kehinde Wiley is an African-American painter whose canvases often depict young people of color against vibrantly patterned backgrounds. He is also known for African American celebrity portraits posed as figures in classical European paintings.
The power of the Wiley images of young folk of color has continued to reverberate for me. Part Rohrschact for those of us of the white world, I offer a selection of the images for your meditation, together with a few contemplative comments. The filigree backgrounds invite focus on the character of the faces. Click here.
In the heated contemporary scene, with kids of color too often lagging in school, with African Americans shot by police in disturbing context, and police targeted in deranged revenge, certain basics matter more than ever.
Against the current landscape, works such as Wiley’s may elicit associations of dropout, or of crime, or of violence, which in turn serve only to perpetuate the vicious circle.
We can choose to look differently.
Who are these young people? Pick one. Who is this one particular kid, really? What has he endured in his young life, what does he want, what does he fear, what are his strengths, his weaknesses? Who does he love, and who loves him, whose brother, whose sister, whose son (or whose daughter)? Whose memories in a community of people?
Look at him. We should all fear for his well-being. In this rapidly changing world, he increasingly is a family member, a friend, a former student, a colleague. True for this white man.
He has shown compassion, and love, has laughed and has listened, has angered and has regretted, alongside us all along. Look at him, see him.