Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meet the muses behind Kehinde Wiley's captivating religious portraits

By Souleo
Adwale, 2010. Bronze, 24 x 16 x 11 inches. Occupation: Co-founder of Out & About NYC Magazine
NEW YORK---Kehinde Wiley asserts the emergence of a new cultural narrative by reimagining the works of old masters and replacing European aristocrats with contemporary black individuals. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, Wiley was exposed to an environment of violence and poverty. At the age of 11, his perception of the world began to broaden and deepen as he tapped into his innate artistic talents. From there he discovered his first muse: himself. Conducting self-portraiture and painting the body allowed him to hone his skills and he further developed them at the San Francisco Art Institute and Yale. [link]

You were homeless prior to modeling for Kehinde Wiley. That is a very vulnerable place to be in. Did the portrait help give you a sense of strength and confidence?

Adewale: Before I met Kehinde I was homeless for about two years. I didn't get along with my father. I was trying to live my American dream and we didn't see eye-to-eye. I left home at the age of twenty going on twenty-one. When I met Kehinde I was no longer homeless but still had the sense of being homeless because I wasn't financially stable. I had just moved in with my uncle and I was not used to being in a bed of my own. Being part of this portrait made me feel special. It made me not give up on hope.

You and Kehinde both have connections to Nigeria. His father is Nigerian and so is your family. How does the African ancestry you both share impact the way you view his work?

Adewale: It means a lot to me that he is African by ancestry but born in America and I am the same as well. We are considered exotic but I don't think we are exotic. We are just a self-made creation of what strength means. Kehinde makes that visible by using African prints as backdrops in some of his paintings. He makes us look even more artistic to the common eye.

Age: 28