Kehinde Wiley

Depicted by Grace Noel

February 28, 1977 - Present

Parents: Isaiah D. Obot from Yoruba, Nigeria & Freddie Mae Wiley, American

Kehinde Wiley was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, that is,

until 50 children were selected to attend an art conservatory in St.

Petersburg, Russia. 2 of those 50 kids were Wiley and his twin brother,

however, it was a short-term program, so the boys continued their

artistic studies when they returned home to their mother and other

siblings. Because Kehinde’s twin brother was also a talented artist, they

maintained a healthy competition between themselves and goaded

each other to improve their artistic skills. Unfortunately, like so many

single-income families, the Wiley’s faced financial struggles and got by

with state assistance. Wiley’s father maintained his Nigerian citizenship

and lived out of the country for Kehinde’s childhood, so he didn’t meet

his father until he was able to visit him in Nigeria at 20 years old.

 

As an artist, Wiley made a name for himself reimagining old masters with

black protagonists. That is- he would use old traditional forms of

painting that served to depict white royalty and bourgeoisie and

replace them with African diasporic figures. Some of his most famous

Old Master paintings include “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the

Alps” (2005) is based on the famed 1800 painting “Napoleon Crossing the

Alps”. Kehinde’s works have expanded to a worldwide scope, using

models from diverse backgrounds including Brazil, India, and Senegal.

 

Arguably the most impressive and highest honor of any American artist,

especially a young black artist, is to be chosen to the United States

presidential portrait. In 2017, Wiley was chosen by Barack Obama to

paint his official presidential portrait, which is now on display at the Art

Institute of Chicago. Kehinde’s pieces run the emotional gamut by

challenging our expectations by using familiar artforms traditionally

reserved for the white elite to honor and showcase the beauty and

diversity of blackness.