Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977). The Death of Hyacinth (Ndey Buri Mboup) (detail), 2022. Oil on canvas, 237.7 x 366.2 cm. © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy of Galerie Templon, Paris. Photo: Ugo Carmeni.

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s new body of paintings and sculptures confronts the silence surrounding systemic violence against Black people through the visual language of the fallen figure.

It expands on his 2008 series, Down — a group of large-scale portraits of young Black men inspired by Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521–1522).

Wiley investigates the iconography of death and sacrifice in Western art, tracing it across religious, mythological, and historical subjects.

In An Archaeology of Silence, the senseless deaths of men and women around the world are transformed into a powerful elegy of resistance. The resulting paintings of figures struck down, wounded, or dead, referencing iconic paintings of mythical heroes, martyrs, and saints, offer a haunting meditation on the legacies of colonialism and systemic racism.

Ian C. Bates for The New York Times



SATURDAY, MARCH 18, 2023 I 1—2 PM

In this conversation with Kehinde Wiley, hear about the Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence exhibition and the artist’s practice. Led by Claudia Schmuckli, curator in charge of contemporary art and programming, this talk explores Wiley’s new body of work that sheds light on the brutalities of American and global colonial pasts.

About the speakers

Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles in 1977 to an African American mother and a Nigerian father. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999, and his MFA from Yale University in 2001. Prior to painting Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, Wiley was already renowned for “street casting” Black sitters from underserved communities and for endowing their portraits with the scale, visual vocabularies, and symbolic rhetoric of Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic “Grand Manner” portraiture. At the unveiling of his portrait of Barack Obama, Wiley declared, “This is consequential, this is who we as a society decide to celebrate. This is our humanity, this is our ability to say: ‘I matter. I was here.’ The ability to be the first African American painter to paint the first African American president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming.”

Claudia Schmuckli is curator in charge of contemporary art and programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Previously she was director and chief curator of the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, where she forged a reputation as a pivotal figure in the presentation of contemporary art. Before coming to the Blaffer Art Museum, Schmuckli worked at the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. She holds an MA in art history from the Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

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