Cameras followed Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based portrait painter, as he decided to explore the inner and outer beauty of Black women for his latest project.
Kehinde is known for his creating portraits of young Black men, showcasing them in a way that mainstream society rarely does: strong, noble, soulful and heroic. He sets them against and even places them into classical-inspired pieces like a portrait modeled after Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. It’s been the main focus of his work for years up until now.
Recently, Kehinde decided to color outside the lines of his comfort zone by creating pieces with Black women as the subject. The whole process was captured for PBS in a documentary titled “Kehinde Wiley: Economy of Grace.”
Through his new work, Kehinda hoped to explore the idea of conventional beauty in the 21st century and expand it.
“In this new body of work, I wanted to look at women in the history of painting much in the way I looked at masculinity in the history of painting,” Kehinde said in the documentary, which aired on PBS last week. “What I really want to do in the economy of grace is go directly to the heart of absolute glamour, but also allowing fantasy and play to come into the picture.”
Much like with his male subjects, Kehinde scouted his new subjects on the street. For the project, he found women in Brooklyn, but not everyone was onboard with the idea. The ladies that did decide to participate, though, were in for an extraordinary treat as they got to wear clothes designed by Givenchy’s creative director Riccardo Tisci.
This didn’t just offer a sense of juxtaposition to the pieces, it allowed the subjects to wrap themselves up in a garment they might otherwise never have access to. However, these pieces, that were designed specifically for the subjects also brought the luxury brand outside of its usual size and fit parameters.
In order for Kehinde to really capture their essence, he got to know the ladies. What he came up with was breathtaking. The finished works, he notes, “are a celebration of Black women, creating a rightful place for them within art history, which has to date been an almost exclusively white domain.” See the art come to life and watch the full documentary in the video above!