Before Kehinde Wiley became the first African-American to paint an official presidential portrait, he pushed the boundary and potentially crossed that boundary with some of his works.
As noted by The Wrap, Wiley released two paintings in 2012 that depicted the Biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes.
However, Wiley’s painting depicted Judith as a black woman and Holofernes as a white woman. As can be seen in the photos below, a woman is seen holding the head of a decapitated woman.
A notable characteristic of Wiley’s work is the distinct color palette and floral backgrounds which can be seen in the decapitation photo as well as the portrait of Obama and other works.
And as can be seen in the tweets above and below, many were not enthused about the former president deciding to have his official portrait painted by an artist who previously released works depicting decapitations.
In a 2012 interview with New York Magazine, Wiley provided some background information on the painting.
“It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley told NY Mag.
He also revealed that the African-American woman depicted in the photo is a stay-at-home mom named Triesha Lowe and the white woman who is absent a body is one of his assistants.
In 2012, the North Carolina Museum of Art foundation released an explanation of the symbolism behind the paintings.
“Judith and Holofernes is from Wiley’s most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects,” the explanation states. “Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”
As reported by The Daily Caller, the tale Biblical tale of Judith and Holofernes revolves around Judith, a young widow, who saves her people by seducing and beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes.
And while the story has been depicted in the art world previously by the likes of Caravaggio and Gentileschi, it’s Wiley’s decision to interject race into the piece that is causing an uproar.
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