Gina Vaynshteyn
February 27, 2015 11:03 am

Today marks the penultimate day of Black History Month. To keep the conversation going (as it always should be), we present you with some gorgeous, poignant artwork by Kehinde Wiley, an LA-based artist whose primary goal is to represent Black men and women in art by refurbishing renaissance art and making it his own. Taking 14th-17th century aesthetics, Wiley inserts Black subjects, and creates an awesome, cultural mashup that is both powerful as it is visually stunning. Because of historical white-washing in Western art, it’s rare that you find classical artwork that features Black men and women, and Kehinde Wiley is trying to fill that problematic void.

In many of Wiley’s paintings, he features iconic, influential hip-hop artists to illustrate modern-day talent.  If you were a VH1 fan back in the mid-2000s, you might have already been exposed to some of his work. According to the National Portrait Gallery,VH1 asked Wiley to create portraits of that year’s Hip Hop Honors program’s honorees.

Above all, Wiley wants to shine a light on hip hop, as an integral part of history and culture. His Artist’s Statement advocates, “Value, in all its meanings, has always played a role in culture. Unlike its precursors—classical, jazz, rock—which have since been canonized and given an art-historical time frame and construct, hip hop continues to be seen merely as entertainment; a cultural hindrance. This series of Wiley’s portraits speaks specifically to that juxtaposition and the retooling of importance and to whom and when it is deemed.”

Take a look at some of his portraits here:

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Three Graces

Ice T 

LL Cool J 

In addition to hip-hop artists, Wiley’s art also features everyday people who are willing to be a part of his portfolio. According to Buzzfeed, Wiley uses strangers as his artistic subjects: “Meeting completely strangers, he asks his subjects if they would be interested in sitting for a portrait. Once in the studio, he encourages them to pick a historical art pose based on how they perceive themselves —whether that be with the prowess of victorious emperor or the sensuality of reclining goddess.” Substituting traditional European elite with modern day Black subjects, “Kehinde Wiley asks viewers to re-evaluate art history and to question how images affect our ideas of identity and culture.”

If you happen to be in New York, you can check out Wiley’s exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum up until May 24th —the collection showcases over 60 works of art. Here are some more pieces that totally blew us away:

Images via Buzzfeed, Kehinde Wiley, National Portrait Gallery

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