Exhibitions: Passing/Posing: Kehinde Wiley Paintings

A New Brand of Colonialism
The logos displayed on the clothing of Wiley’s subjects—in the 2004 painting Passing/Posing (The Martyrdom of St. Symphorian), for example—refer to the power of commercialism in contemporary culture, particularly as it relates to the position of black subjects as both consumers and representatives of capitalism in mass media. Although this “branding” on the one hand recalls the history of colonialism and slavery in this country, the attention to style and self-fashioning by the subject also suggests a kind of empowerment and affirmation of black identity. A similar duality exists on the visual level: the decorative motifs derive from the grandiose ornamentation of French Rococo, Baroque, and classical Islamic designs, yet they likewise evoke the faux décor of shopping malls. Wiley’s conflation of these two visual worlds signifies a hybridization of the aesthetics of power and prestige forged within the culture of contemporary society.

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