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.