Monday, 6 August 2012

Kehinde Wiley and Inter-textuality

"Kehinde Wiley’s portraits of African American men collate modern culture with the influence of Old Masters. Incorporating a range of vernaculars culled from art historical references, Wiley’s work melds a fluid concept of modern culture, ranging from French Rococo to today’s urban landscape. By collapsing history and style into a unique contemporary vision, Wiley interrogates the notion of master painter, “making it at once critical and complicit "." (National Portrait Gallery) 

'On Top of the World' (2008) Kehinde Wiley

Questions from the Cadi Blog:

I. Find a clear definition of Intertextuality and quote it accurately on your blog using the APA referencing system. Use your own words to explain the definition more thoroughly. 
In simple terms, 'Intertextuality' is a way a text is referred to, influence, inspired or related to another text. According to Ward (1997):

      One way of understanding this term is as a sort of environment of texts in which an 
      author works and from which she or he draws. Whatever original idea an author might 
      have, certain conditions must be in place in order for these ideas to 'happen'. An 
      important aspect of these conditions is the face that his or her text, and even the desire 
      to produce it, exists inescapably in relation to a vast number of other texts, mostly other 
      authors. So no texts sits in a vacuum or speaks its won tongue. Authors have to get their 
      ideas from somewhere, and readers can only read in the light of what they have seen 
      before. (p. 162-3) 

II. Research Wiley's work and write a paragraph that analyzes how we might make sense of his work. Identify intertextuality in Wiley's work.  

'After Titian's "The Penitent Mary Magdalen"' (2009) Kehinde Wiley with 'The Penitent Mary Magdalen' (1555-1565) Titian
'Ice T' (2005) Kehinde Wiley with "Napoleon on his Imperial throne" (1806) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres                     

Wiley mostly paint portraits of African-American men in highly decorated and classical ornamental backgrounds, which contrast with the figures, who are wearing the latest hip hop street clothing. The poses of Wiley's black males and techniques are based on paintings of old masters like Titian and Ingres.  

To make sense of Wiley's works, we need to go back to the Renaissance and the Neoclassical art movement. During these two eras, paintings were mainly focused on powerful white men or important religious figures. Intertextuality occurs when Wiley replaces these important Western figures with black males. Sometimes Wiley will reference the original painting in the title, like 'After Titian's "The Penitent Mary Magdalene". But with paintings like 'Ice T', a viewer will need to know Napoleon's painting by Ingres to understand the figure's pose and background. By replacing the original figure with black men, Wiley gives them the same power and authority that the Western figures had to his 21st century subjects. 

III. Wiley's work relates to next weeks Postmodern theme "PLURALISM" . Discuss how the work relates to this theme. 
According to Ward (1997):

      At its simplest, it means preferring the many to one. A pluralistic society allows minority 
      cultures to maintain their own traditions. A pluralistic philosophy acknowledges more 
      than one ultimate principle. A text is not a container for one deep meaning: it is a site 
      for a plurality of readings. A pluralistic artist works in a number of styles and media, 
      without assuming that one is essentially better than the other. (p. 217) 

Wiley's work relates to pluralism because its not just about the one dominant Western society. Wiley uses the Western culture's style, poses, and techniques to give his African-American culture power and dominance in his paintings. Even though black men are his main subjects, there are still a balance between cultures in his works. Another pluralistic element in his work is the mixture of past and present; Neoclassicism and contemporary.

IV. Comment on how Wiley's work raises questions around social/cultural hierarchies , colonisation, globalisation, stereotypes and the politics which govern a western worldview. 
Black men, especially African-Americans, are very stereotyped in the Western view as a culture that promotes fear, danger, and anger. Even more so with black men in tough, street clothing. Wiley challenges this Western view of black men by adding Western elements from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment period to give even more power to these black men. It forms the struggling black men in the streets to heroes.  
The African-American culture has always been considered as part of the lower social class in the social hierarchy especially before the 1950s, where many black people were slaves for the Western 'White' people. Wiley painting his figures in street clothing is very significant, because hip hop was born out of the poorest part of America; where the black people are. Wiley brings these people to the forefront and makes us reconsider about the stereotype that are applied to these men.

V. Add some reflective comments of your own, which may add more information that
you have read during your research.
I really enjoy looking at the contrast in Wiley's paintings. Black men, who are normally considered tough and fearless, are placed in a very classical and ornamental setting; which takes away their fierceness almost completely. His paintings are neither historical or contemporary looking. I think its interesting to re-introduce these iconic paintings of the old masters and remake them to promote a culture that has a bad reputation in society. I do wonder whether he has succeeded in getting his message across to viewers. To me, if one does not understand the context and intertextuality of his works, I would only see it as a humorous piece of work. Even though I do think his works will be an inspiration to his culture and help his culture to pass through the views of Western society.


Columbusmuseum. (2007, December 7). Kehinde Wiley on Today [Video file]. Retrieved 
Ward, G. (1997). Postmodernism. London: Hodder Headline Ltd. 

6lizaliza6. (2008, August 16). Kehinde Wiley on Current tv [Video file]. Retrieved from  

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