Kehinde Wiley is a New York based painter from Los Angeles who has positioned himself within art history’s tradition of portrait painting. Most recently, he was commissioned to paint former president Barack Obama’s portrait, which now resides in the National Portrait Gallery.
This portrait, from the series titled The World Stage: India - Sri Lanka was first shown at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in 2010, ‘represents the evolution of Wiley’s exploration of ethnic identity in contemporary aesthetics as he brings disciplined realism to focus on New Delhi Mumbai and Sri Lanka.’
Shifting his attention to Asia from his roots in Nigeria and the racial profile of the black man in America, Wiley writes, ‘One of the things that I wanted to do in the work specifically in regards to India was to remove any notion of the ‘authentic’ from the conversation and in so doing, look specifically at Orientalist paintings which become the rubric through which we begin that conversation.’
Wiley’s Annoyed Radha with her Friends ‘draws on the intense theatre of the relationship – Krishna’s infidelity, his broken promises and Radha’s passionate if temporary rejection of him.’ The catalogue that accompanied the original exhibition written by Gayatria Sinha goes on to say, Wiley’s version of Annoyed Radha, ‘also references Gustave Guillaumet’s Ain Kerma (Spring of Fig Trees) Smalah of Tiaret in Algeria, from 1867—a year at the height of French colonization of Algeria and of the domination of Christian cultural values over the Muslim.’
Sinha goes on to describe the artwork, ‘In Wiley’s case, the [Gustave Guillaumet] serves as a back-drop, while in the foreground two young men appear in a performative tableau. As in the Radha Krishna iconography, the standing figure holds his hand up in the divine gesture (mudra) that urges patience. But in sharp departure from the inherent narrative both of the figures in the work fix their gaze onto the viewer.’
True to his style, this portrait employs his use of vivid colors when depicting his subjects to punctuate their essence. It also typifies Wiley’s celebrated approach to creating a portrait, the subject, despite their background or history, is seen as iconic.