Kehinde Wiley

Obama Portrait Artist Unveils Confederacy-Inspired Sculpture in Times Square

Artist Kehinde Wiley unveiled his latest work, “Rumors of War,” in New York’s Times Square on Friday, a large scale sculpture that says “yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.”

“The story starts with, going to Virginia of course, and seeing the monuments that line the streets,” Wiley said at the unveiling.

Wiley had an idea to draw on the controversial statue of Confederate General James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart on display in Richmond, Virginia, but replace Stuart with a young black man in streetwear, sitting regally on a massive horse.

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“It’s about being in this black body,” Wiley said. “I’m a black man walking those streets. I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear. What does that feel like physically to walk a public space? And to have that, your state, your country, your nation, say, ‘this is what we stand by.’ No. We want more. We demand more. And today, we say yes to something that looks like us. We say yes to inclusivity. We say yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.”

The bronze sculpture stunned passersby on Monday.

“It’s powerful,” Farasha Green said. “He takes regular, everyday figures and makes them look very majestic and very powerful, what we strive to internalize as black people. Something like this, that’s provocative and that’s challenging and that’s fearless in putting it right in front of your face and saying you know, ‘this is what needs to be at the forefront.’ I think it’s genius.”

“I thought it was an interesting retake on history and trying to help reclaim some type of pain or some type of wrongdoing that was done to America,” Tyler Clifford said. “It helps to try to reimagine underprivileged or underserved people in a new light, in a new power mode, a new power angle.”

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Wiley is best known for his painting of former U.S. President Barack Obama, which took its place in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of presidential portraits. Wiley and Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait, were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian. Wiley is also known for “Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson)” which was the last commissioned portrait of the singer before his death.

“Rumors of War” will be on display in Times Square through December 1, then will be permanently installed in Richmond, Virginia.

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