What can a classic painting say about a scene of violence recurring in contemporary life? A lot, according to Californian artist Kehinde Wiley. It was 2008 when he started the series Down inspired by painting The Dead Christ in the Tomb, by Renaissance master Hans Holbein, and for historic paintings and sculptures of fallen warriors and figures in a state of repose. With these images in mind, Wiley represented black bodies interpreting classic scenes to create a contemporary version of portraits that resonate with issues such as violence, pain and death, but also ecstasy.
This year, on the occasion of the 59th Venice Biennale, he resumes the series in the exhibition Kehinde Wiley: An Archeology of Silence, at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, on the island of San Giorgio, portraying friends as heroes, saints and warriors. This time, however, he mixes classic art references with contemporary news about American police violence against young people of color. The new works portray young black men in positions of vulnerability that tell a story of survival and resilience.
The scale is ambitious (paintings and bronze sculptures can be around 6 meters high!) and is right: the artist wants to go beyond the mere corporeality and enter, with these bodies, the realm of spiritual icons, of martyrs and saints .
According to the artist, technology allows viewers to witness representations of violence against the black body that were previously silenced. Hence the title “archeology of silence”. Wiley states, "That's the archeology I'm unearthing: the specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of black and brown youth around the world."
Kehinde Wiley: An Archeology of Silence
Location: Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Address: Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, 30133, Venice, Italy
Date: Until July 24, 2022
Opening hours: Every day from 10am to 7pm