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Bulls, Bs, and Beauty; the 21st century Matador

Kehinde Wiley is more than just the man who just created the Obama portrait. He is aiding in curating the movement of people of color in mainstream art.

A moment in time, a shared perspective, a stylistic version of an oppressed narrative. The artist Kehinde Wiley successfully creates an outstanding piece that embodies fashion sense, as well as the struggles black men undergo in today’s world. Putting a twist on the traditional Matador picturesque, Wiley’s painting “Matador,” incorporates symbolic aspects in order to shed light on a narrative. Furthermore, aspects such as the white flag and a black male in stylish street clothing in his painting help develop not only the painting, but it’s purpose as well.

Upon first glance, the painting was larger than life. Whether you are focusing on body language, detail, or the solemn facial expression that echoes through the models piercing eyes. This portrait is representative of a narrative that is often overlooked or looked down upon. I believe this painting expresses the desire of the black man to be free and vibrant. He wishes to live a life uncontained and be able to be “naked” to the world without being prejudged or knocked down. This process is not easy because of how many people were raised and taught. Therefore, you will often see the black man expressing themselves, but having to surrender as well to establish that all motives are peaceful. However, our subject must lay down while creating or be trampled by opinions (a bull). Moreover, this process is ongoing and troublesome, but they remain unbroken, just working and waiting.

"Matador", photo courtesy: Instagram

What amazes me about Wiley’s work is that he is consistent. Wiley's early work consists of Photo-Realistic paintings of black men in an attempt to remove the stigmas often assigned to them. Moreover, instead of further generalizing and assigning the characteristics of violent, angry, or lazy to black men. Wiley replaces those prejudices in his portraits by portraying black men as vulnerable, desirable, strong, and competent. Wiley often replaces European aristocrats depicted in older paintings with people of color, in order to draw attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. “Matador,” is only one of the masterpieces a part of his developed portfolio and he continues to earn his space as a prominent artist.

June 2019, Kehinde Wiley opened Black Rock, a luxurious residency program in Dakar, Senegal. This residency building was created to facilitate a space for artists to discover and fulfill their true potential. Wiley believes the details he has incorporated and location itself should help spark the brightest of minds that receive the privilege of joining the program. Wiley realizes that creativity naturally flows within us, however, it must be nourished in order to grow into its true potential. Masterpieces are never made overnight; they take time.

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