“The work that I do,” Kehinde Wiley explained to us for his Fall 2022 cover story, “is a way of engaging a deeply beautiful and terrible world and having the ability to say something about it. That allows me to feel less powerless, even though I know art has no revolutionary capacity at its core, it’s entirely revolutionary.” We reflected on those words as we toured the US premiere of his monumental body of work, An Archaeology of Silence, which opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this weekend.
Created against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the worldwide rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, An Archaeology of Silence meditates on the deaths of young Black people slain all over the world. It expands on his 2008 series, Down — a group of large-scale portraits of young Black men inspired by Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521–1522). Wiley investigates the iconography of death and sacrifice in Western art, tracing it across religious, mythological, and historical subjects. In An Archaeology of Silence, the senseless deaths of men and women around the world are transformed into a powerful elegy of resistance. The resulting paintings of figures struck down, wounded, or dead, referencing iconic paintings of mythical heroes, martyrs, and saints, offer a haunting meditation on the legacies of colonialism and systemic racism.
For more information about the exhibition and upcoming talks, events, free admission days, and more, visit famsf.org