Kehinde Wiley's Statue of African American Man Unveiled in Response to Confederate Monuments in Richmond
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Kehinde Wiley’s Statue of African American Man Unveiled in Response to Confederate Monuments in Richmond

Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley's "Rumors of War" statue (Image: Kehinde Wiley's Instagram)

On Tuesday, Dec.10, Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” statue was permanently installed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and unveiled to the public in Richmond, Virginia. Thousands of people were gathered on the grounds of VMFA and in the streets for an unveiling that has the potential to transform the identity of Richmond.

The event kicked off with a performance by Richmond’s All-City High School Marching Band and included remarks by a group of dignitaries including Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Mayor Levar Stoney in addition to leaders from the VMFA.

“This is a historic moment for all of us,” says Alex Nyerges, director of the VMFA, during his opening remarks. “It’s a positive moment as we think about the inspiration art brings to the world.

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Standing more than 27 feet high, the statue represents a young, African American male with dreadlocks and Nike shoes sitting astride a horse. Wiley was inspired to create the statue in direct response to the Confederate statues that are seen along Monument Avenue in Richmond. The statue is modeled after the 15-foot tall equestrian bronze statue of Cavalry Commander Gen. J.E.B. Stuart who is seen striking a heroic pose on a horse that has its right foot raised. It’s one of the most animated statues on Monument Avenue. Wiley was determined to create an image of an African American male that defied traditional stereotypes of worthlessness.

“A black man on a horse in all of its regal splendor has never been seen before on this scale,” says Dr. Monroe Harris, VMFA’s president of the Board of Trustees, as he addressed the crowd. “It says that no matter what your background…you are important.”

New-York based artist Kehinde Wiley is best known for painting the portrait of former President Barack Obama that hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. His work explores the politics of race, representation, gender, and power. Minutes before the unveiling, Wiley shared what this moment means for the future of society.

“I want this picture to be not about an individual but rather about black men and their place in society in a much broader way,” says Wiley as the crowd clapped and cheered him on. “It’s about a society that can include all of us.”

Wiley continues, “I don’t want this to be a boy story. I want all of our young women to feel just as engendered to the power this sculpture represents as well. I think that what this represents is not just a story about race or gender but about openness. It’s a story about America 2.0.

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2019 marks a turning point in the narrative for the state that was the former capital of the Confederacy. Richmond commemorates the 400th year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia and embraces a shift in the winds going forward.

“This monument firmly establishes that our city is not living in the past,” says Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA. “Today Richmond is embracing a future that is happening right before our eyes.”

Everyone who visits Richmond will have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the evolution of the city through this statue as well as enjoy the resources that BLK RVA has put together to celebrate black culture.