Curated by Christophe Leribault, An Archaeology of Silence presents a collection of monumental paintings and sculptures, expanding on Kehinde Wiley’s body of work DOWN from 2008. Initially inspired by Holbein’s painting The Dead Christ in the Tomb (1520-22) as well as historical paintings and sculptures of fallen warriors and figures in the state of repose, Wiley created an unsettling series of prone Black bodies, re-conceptualizing classical pictorial forms to create a contemporary version of monumental portraiture, resounding with violence, pain, and death, as well as ecstasy.
For this new body of work, Wiley has expanded these core thematic elements to meditate on the deaths of young Black men slain all over the world. Technology allows viewers to witness these graphic depictions of violence against the Black body that were once silenced. Wiley states, “That is the archaeology I am unearthing: The spectre of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world.” In light of the current global conflicts, language concerning power struggles and inalienable human rights are more critical than ever.
The new portraits depict young Black men and women in positions of vulnerability that tell a story of survival and resilience, revealing the beauty that can emerge from the horrific. These poses, borrowed from Western European art historical sources, function as beautiful elegies echoing a central metaphor of youth and resilience and stand as monuments to endurance and perseverance in the face of savagery, incorporating a scale that pushes beyond the mere corporeal and into the realm of spiritual icons, of martyrs and saints.
Kehinde Wiley: An Archeology of Silence was organized by Musée d’Orsay in collaboration with Fondazione Giorgio Cini and supported by TEMPLON. The exhibition is a Collateral Event of the 59th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia.
Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence is a traveling exhibition, visiting the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco (March – October, 2023) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (November, 2023 – May, 2024).