What Is a Hero?

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s upcoming exhibition Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic opened its doors to the public on Sept. 20 and showcases vibrant, urban paintings that bring to light issues such as race, gender and how the world defines a hero.

| by Nicole Crites“We are really excited to present this work in Fort Worth, and we know that the work is rich, not only visually, but also conceptually,” said the museum’s art curator, Andrea Karnes. “Anyone can look at it and take away so much to think about.”

The exhibition highlights approximately 60 works created during artist Kehinde Wiley’s prolific 14-year career. Wiley’s early paintings were inspired by his observations of street life of Harlem, but he eventually marked his signature style of replacing historical figures and aristocrats portraiture, consisting of primarily white men, with urban, African American youth set against ornate, intricate backgrounds.

Karnes organized a small-scale exhibition of his work in 2008, and although it featured merely three paintings, she said the showcase was wildly popular, especially among youth.

“We really noticed that it engaged a lot of young people who either saw aspects of themselves in the work or had just not seen anything like that before in a museum,” said Karnes. “So we knew that we would revisit Kehinde someday for some other, larger exhibition.”

The Brooklyn Museum organized Wiley’s exhibition, and when they approached the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth about doing the show, Karnes said they had to jump on it, especially since this will be the exhibit’s first time to be shown in Texas.

A New Republic will also showcase works from Wiley’s ongoing project World Stage, in which he travels to highly populated countries such as China, India and Brazil to paint portraits of people representative of what the world’s youth of today looks like.

Karnes said she expects the exhibit will be very popular once again and emphasized the various issues raised by Wiley’s signature replacement of original saints, military leaders and aristocrats.

“Kehinde calls attention to the fact that the world has opened up and changed and that heroes come in many shades, many genders, many different ways we can look at what we call a ‘hero’ today,” she said. “And so I think he is, on the one hand, acknowledging the lack of African American heroes depicted in art, but also giving us another way to think about what a hero is.”

Before it officially opens, Kehinde Wiley will be speaking at the museum on Sept. 15 as a part of its Tuesday lecture nights. Lectures are also open to the public but require tickets due to limited seating. As someone who has heard the artist speak before, Karnes said she highly recommends attending.

“He’s really entertaining and highly articulate,” she said. “People should take advantage of it while he is here and we get it for free.”

The exhibition will end on Jan. 10, making Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic available to the public for nearly four months.