The top floor of the Brooklyn Museum is filled with iconic images from art as far back at the fifteenth century. There are images from the Byzantine Empire, stain glass iconic images like Saint Ursula and the Virgin Martyrs, the sculpture Morpheus from Jean Antonie Houdon. Images that have inspired individuals and cultures for centuries.
Only now, they have been reinvented by artist Kehinde Wiley who has transformed these iconic images to include African American men in an exhibit titled ‘A New Republic’.
“Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us,” Kehinde Wiley.
Recreating the original work by posing these men in the same positions as the iconic portraits, the artist has transformed not only the classic images but reconstructed a story of a new world of inclusion.
Busts which have been used to depict nobility, kings and presidents, are featured in the exhibit represented by Black men. These men, with their heads high and prideful, sport a hoodie, an afro pick, a thick chain with a cross.
Stained glass windows have been recreated with images of men in the poses of saints and angels with brown faces. Oil canvases dominate the walls with images of heroes, warriors and innovators.
Touches of humor can also be found in the work. In the recreation of the painting of Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass by Jacques-Louis David, Wiley re-images a Timberland clad man as the Black warrior. The warrior is complete with bandana tied urban style instead of the traditional bicorne hat the emperor wears. The rock in the Wiley painting has written on it ‘Bonaparte’, just as in the original painting, but is accompanied by the name ‘Williams’ to indicate the presence of a Black man.
The detail in the paintings is elaborate and exquisite from the soles of the converse sneakers, the sagging pants and the individual braids and locks. The use of traditional urban attire in the works seems to say that, even in everyday wear, there is nobility.
The artist also includes women in the exhibit. They are similarly featured in iconic works. The trio of female busts is a must see.
The title of the exhibition is also a connection to an iconic classic, Plato’s ‘The Republic’. In that classic work, thinkers define the world around them. Here Wiley imagines ‘A New Republic’ where today’s man is part of that dialog.
The exhibit is a necessity for those who want to visualize themselves higher, loftier and greater, for those who envision a world of inclusion and for those who conceive and contemplate themselves as part of the new Republic.§
This exhibit was on display at the Brooklyn Museum during March and May 2015.
Photos: From the Wiley Exhibit (k.clements)