Kehinde Wiley’s paintings present black subjects as figures of privilege and power, thereby transforming both the subjects, who have usually been depicted in negative terms, and the genre of portraiture itself, which has been reserved only for the wealthy. At the same time, while Renaissance portraits affirmed the importance of specific individuals, Wiley's figures remain anonymous, serving as a commentary on the position of the subjects as “types” as well as their historical absence from the genre. By positioning young black men within painting’s field of power, Wiley instills a new vision of black masculinity and commands acknowledgment and respect for his subjects. His works also propose a new understanding of the painted likeness, forcing portraiture to confront what has been absent from its tradition for so long.
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