There's something inherently stratifying about the way that figures are depicted in classic paintings. In many of them, black and brown figures take on subservient roles in a way that is consistent with how black and brown people of that time were oppressed. To reimagine history is the work of the visionary. To reimagine art history has been the signature mission of visionary painter Kehinde Wiley. Wiley's desire to make people of African descent more visible by reinterpreting classic work began when he was still a young child. Born in Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, Wiley began his art education early, even studying for a short time in Russia when he was just 11. The more he became familiar with the paintings of the "Old Masters", the more determined he became to reimagine the relationships of power often visually communicated in those works. His models are often dressed in street clothes with ornate baroque or floral backgrounds, rendered in larger-than-life portraits. He has traveled around the world painting and exhibiting his work but is perhaps best-known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama which is housed in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery's "American Presidents" exhibition. Read more to see that portrait as well as some other Wiley paintings.
Kehinde Wiley, pictured above with a couple of his portraits.