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Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Rumors of War’ is an artful counter to Confederacy monuments

Rumors of War

Photo Credit: Screenshot/BBC Update (December 13, 2019):  The statue depicting a young Black man that debuted in Times Square has been relocated to the former capital of the U.S. Confederacy, according to BBC.

The statue, titled “Rumors of War,” was unveiled in Richmond, Virginia, near Monument Avenue, the location where several other sculptures of war generals once stood.

The sculpture, draped in bronze, was placed in the city nearly a century after the last confederate monument on the street was built, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Artist Kehinde Wiley’s inspiration for the statue came after a visit to Richmond and seeing the General J.E.B Stuart monument. He put a twist on his interpretation of the statute, ultimately creating a man with locs, Nike sneakers and jeans.

“Who is this man? Well, he’s anyone and no one,” he said. “I think it meant a lot to me that in the 21st century, we as a society can say ‘yes’ to a monument to a young black man in a hoodie.”

The statue, which is 27 feet tall and rests on a limestone pedestal, symbolizes the “negotiation of power,” Wiley said.

Wiley has a history of highlighting Black people in the community, including former President Barack Obama. He said it’s something about causing a shift in perspective of associating only white men with power and wealth.

“There is something moving in the culture,” Wiley said during the ceremony. “There’s something changing in these winds. I think we’re all fed up with a lot of things. I think artists have that unique responsibility to use that energy for something else. I’m tired of the destruction. I’m tired of the strife. I think we can do better.”

“I want this … to be about black men and their place in this society. A society that can say yes to black men,” he added.

During the unveiling ceremony, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said, “It’s taken more than 100 years, but the rest of Richmond residents finally have a monument of a man on a horse that looks like them.”

After the unveiling, Wiley said he couldn’t think of a better permanent home for the statue other than the former capital of the Confederacy.

Original (October 1, 2019): Kehinde Wiley unveiled his latest piece in the middle of Times Square.

The limestone sculpture, titled “Rumors of War,” is Wiley’s largest piece to date, according to CNN. It depicts a young Black man atop a horse, reminiscent of statues of confederate leaders in the South. Like most of his other work, the subject looks like anyone you would see at a corner store. The man sports locs, a hoodie, jeans and a pair of sneakers.

Wiley said he was inspired when he saw “the (Confederate) monuments that lined the streets” while he was in Virginia.

“I’m a Black man walking those streets,” Wiley said during an opening ceremony on Friday. “I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear. What does that feel like — physically — to walk a public space and to have your state, your country, your nation say ‘this is what we stand by’? No. We want more, we demand more, we creative people create more. And today, we say yes to something that looks like us, we say yes to inclusivity.”

The Gothamist reports the statue’s presentation in Times Square is intentional.

“New York and Times Square in particular sit at the crossroads of human movement on a global scale,” Wiley said in a statement. “To have the ‘Rumors of War’ sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

The sculpture will remain in Times Square until December. Its permanent home will be the entrance to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Dr. Monroe Harris, a member of the Board of Trustees at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, called the piece “monumental.”

“Monumental in pure size, monumental in beauty but it’s also monumental in the message that it gives because it says that a black man, a black woman can be displayed in regal splendor, on a horse! In the capital of the confederacy!” Harris said at the presentation.

Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney can’t wait to welcome the sculpture to his city.

“Now thanks to Kehinde, we will have this beautiful monument right here [in Richmond], a monument that speaks empathetically to a new worthy cause,” Stoney said. “Just as Lady Liberty stands as our universal symbol of freedom, in Richmond ‘Rumors of War’ will be our symbolic battle cry, it will be our guide right on our newly-renamed Arthur Ashe Boulevard riding boldly and sincerely right into the future.”

“Rumors of War,” is Wiley’s first major piece since he painted former President Barack Obama’s official portrait. The high-profile piece changed his life.

“It’s changed the whole game,” he told Blavity in August. “People don’t have to ask ‘who is that guy?’ any longer. It’s given me a recognition that has opened doors now. It’s allowed me to take certain risks with my work; to be able to sort of blast past the notoriety of the Obama portrait, which is quite impossible, but it is certainly the air beneath the wings and we all need that.”

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