Kehinde Wiley: The Importance of Art

Art by Kehinde Wiley (via

Art has the power to expose the truth.

In this polarized society, the voices which scrutinize and assess the discrimination, bias, and prejudice of this country toward People of Color, are suppressed. What do we do in a world where Tik Tok creators who post Black Lives Matter content get shadowbanned¹? If social media amplifies polarization by creating “echo chambers” ², which promotes posts to users that accommodate their existing views and limits posts that are contradictory to the user’s views, where can we find the honest mediums of expression? The power of change resides in art because history resides in art.

Art by Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is an artist who depicts Black people with visuals of “glorification, history, wealth, and prestige.”³ In the picture to the right, Wiley depicts models who are dressed in their everyday clothes absorbed in lush patterns. This exhibits a sense of empowerment, importance, and comfort. The sitting positions of these women and the Victorian-Esque background radiate dominance and royalty. The gaze of the two women on the sides and the eye-looking pattern of the background exudes the authority of these women, encouraging the audience to feel their strength. Almost immediately we can tell that these women are mothers, the “queens” of their household.


Art by Kehinde Wiley

The painting to the left is part of a series called “Rumors of War.” This painting is among his most famous and it accomplishes one of his goals to “quote historical sources and position young black men within the field of power.”4 The historical source he is “quoting” here is the painting Bonaparte Crossing the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass by Jacques-Louis David. He follows the theme of empowerment and importance in this “equestrian portrait” by featuring a young Black man in the position of power appearing large compared to the horse, wearing his modern clothes under a silky royal golden cloth, and enwrapped in a rich background. Wiley says: “My job as an artist is simply to ask who deserves to be on the great museum walls,” one of his famous quotes. He is dedicating his museum spaces to exhibit People of Color in a dominant and influential manner by depicting them with patterns and poses associated with European powers and art.

Statue by Kehinde Wiley (Photo by Travis Fullerton via VMFA )

Also part of the “Rumors of War” series is an equestrian statue, Wiley’s response to the confederate statues of America. Many American’s have taken initiative to remove Confederate General statues, monuments, and dedications. This statue features a black man on a horse, based on the statue of General J.E.B (the general’s statue was taken down in June 2020). This statue stands 27 feet tall but the significance of it does not reside in its height, instead, in the message. The name of the series, “Rumors of War,” comes from the Bible, Matthew 24:6: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Not only does Wiley’s art highlight and uplift People of Color with powerful poses and rich patterns, but it highlights how unequal America is with its representation of People of Color. Wiley uplifts People of Color in his art because there is not enough representation of People of Color through monuments, portraits, and dedications.

Wiley’s inspired by Western European Art, his paintings show a soft and effortless look. The subjects are glowing, but at the same time melting in with their surroundings. Art can tell the truth. The truth is that People of Color are underrepresented, and have been undermined for too long. Wiley represents Black people in positions of power, his art is large and meaningful. When people are muted on social media and the polarization of two sides increases, we can turn to all types of art to express, document, and take charge of any cause. Art is a universal language, something that has remained from past civilizations to help determine history and something to turn to to keep documenting and expressing.


1: Information from the Time article: “These TikTok Creators Say They’re Still Being Suppressed for Posting Black Lives Matter Content” by Megan McCluskey 

2: Information from a research article in PNAS: 

3: Information is taken from Kehinde Wiley’s Website: