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Obama portrait artist brings striking exhibition to SF

Kehinde Wiley's "The Death of Hyacinth (Ndey Buri Mboup)," a 2022 oil oil on canvas in the forthcoming de Young exhibition, "An Archaeology of Silence" | Ugo Carmeni/©️ 2022 Kehinde Wiley/Courtesy of the artist and Templon, Paris–Brussels–New York

Many know painter Kehinde Wiley for his groundbreaking presidential portrait of Barack Obama, which drew standing-room-only crowds to the de Young Museum last summer. 

But Bay Area locals will get a chance to dig deeper into Wiley’s oeuvre this spring when the de Young hosts the U.S. debut of the artist’s An Archaeology of Silence. The body of work created against the backdrop of Covid, the death of George Floyd and the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement will include 26 artworks confronting the legacies of colonialism and meditating on the deaths of slain young Black men across the globe.  

A 2022 oil on canvas painting titled "Morpheus (Ndeye Fatou Mbaye)" in the exhibition, "Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence" | Ugo Carmeni/©️ 2022 Kehinde Wiley/Courtesy of the artist and Templon, Paris–Brussels–New York

In an artist’s statement for An Archaeology of Silence, Wiley described his artistic process for the exhibition as an unearthing of “the specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world.” 

A 2022 oil on canvas painting titled "Femme Piquée par un Serpent (Mamadou Gueye)" in "Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence" | Ugo Carmeni/©️ 2022 Kehinde Wiley/Courtesy of the artist and Templon, Paris–Brussels–New York

The collection of paintings and sculptures, drawn from lockdown-era interactions at Wiley’s Senegalese artists’ residency program, Black Rock, builds upon Wiley’s previous series, called Down. That group of large-scale portraits was inspired by the work of famed Tudor portraitist Hans the Younger and depicts young Black men in positions of vulnerability. Some subjects lie in sweet repose while other figures look fallen or taken by death. Most figures in the works reference historical paintings of heroic subjects, martyrs, religious figures and saints such as Holbein’s, The Dead Christ in the Tomb.  

A 2022 oil on canvas titled "Christian Martyr Tarcisius (El Hadji Malick Gueye)" in "Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence." | Ugo Carmeni/©️ 2022 Kehinde Wiley/Courtesy of the artist and Templon, Paris–Brussels–New York

"By inscribing Black people into known examples of Western painting and sculpture, Kehinde Wiley counters the historical erasure of people of color from the dominant cultural narratives,” Claudia Schmuckli, curator of contemporary art and programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said in a release. The effects of the imagery, added Schmuckli, are “both vulnerable and strong, elegiac and ecstatic, devastating and beautiful.” 

Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence will be on view at the de Young starting March 18. 

Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence

de Young Museum
March 18-Oct. 15
famsf.org