This painting is one in series of portraits by Kehinde Wiley that offer a visual response to the Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s acclaimed feminist short story, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892). Wiley’s new portraits feature women and girls that the artist met on the streets of Dalston, east London.
Wiley's paintings depict women as autonomous, powerful and open to individual interpretation. Some of the poses he positions the sitters in reference painted portraits by European 'Old Masters'. In this seated portrait of Melissa Thompson, the sitter's pose and hand gestures reference traditional paintings.
Gilman’s semi-autobiographical tale sees her narrator confined to her bedroom after being diagnosed with hysteria, her mental anguish exacerbated by the room’s hideous yellow wallpaper. Embodying a myriad of positions with regards to social class, status, religion, colonialism and the negotiation of gender, the women in Wiley’s portraits are pictured within reimagined fields inspired by William Morris’s patterned wallpaper.
Against this background, Wiley depicts these women as autonomous, powerful and open to individual interpretation. In this way the portraits offer a rubric through which to engage with the beautiful and terrible histories and traditions that his subjects are heir to.