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Kehinde Wiley Exclusive

Source: Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images / Getty

A new exhibition by Kehinde Wiley in Houston displays his work in a captivating array of light and darkness.

At the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, a new exhibition by the venerated artist Kehinde Wiley is drawing heavy attention as part of a burgeoning movement by other Black artists utilizing light and darkness to enhance the impact of their artwork. The exhibition, entitled “An Archeology of Silence”, shows Wiley’s prowess at conveying the enforced silence of systemic oppression and violence inflicted on Black and Brown bodies. “That is the archaeology I am unearthing: The specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world,” Wiley writes in the description of the exhibition on the museum’s website, which continues the artistic path of his 2008 exhibition “Down”, which was inspired by works from 16th-century artist Hans Holbein the Younger, particularly “The Dead Christ In The Tomb”. Wiley’s artwork is highlighted with “framing projectors”, fixtures at each installation that focus the light in the perimeter of the artwork, thus avoiding spillage or shadows. The effect gives paintings the same visual effect of light upon stained glass.

The usage of strategically placed light on the artwork is in syncopation with other notable Black artists with exhibitions, such as the renowned Betye Saar’s “Drifting Towards Twilight” at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Garden in Southern California and photographer Dawoud Bey’s “Elegy” exhibition which recently closed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where the somber lighting lent “emotional weight” to his large-scale pictures of sites near the Underground Railroad and the Richmond Slave Trail. “Twilight is the magical time, we know that,” said Saar, 97, of her latest work connecting to the human life cycle. “That’s when nothing is definite, it’s always changing, that’s the way life is.”

Wiley began to create these works with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic, which feature Black and Brown individuals dressed in contemporary fashion down to fitted baseball caps and Timberlands styled after saints, martyrs, heroes, and other figures from the European historical painting masters such as Goya, Titian, and Michaelangelo.  After its run ends in Houston on May 27, the exhibition will travel to the Perez Museum of Art in Miami, Florida where it will be on display until January 12, 2025, then moving on to the Minneapolis Institute of Art until next June.