African-American artist Kehinde Wiley is laying down roots in Senegal

African-American artist Kehinde Wiley is laying down roots in Senegal
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The first time Kehinde Wiley visited Dakar, Senegal, he was a 19-year-old art student on his way to Nigeria in search of his father. A little more than two decades later, the New York-based artist, who recently became the first African-American artist to paint an official presidential portrait of former US President Barack Obama, will soon open an artist residency program in the city.
“It’s radically foreign, but it’s also somehow familiar,” Wiley said of Senegal and why he has chosen Dakar as the launch point for the new project, called Black Rock Senegal, which is due to open in May.
“I think there was something about the radical dissonance between desert and sea, and the sense of being completely outside of the territory that you’re familiar with,” he added as he looked out over Dakar’s view of the Atlantic from his now part-time home. Kehinde said it’s mostly the residents themselves of Dakar, more than any one attraction, that got him enamored with the city.
“I come from a place where there are traffic jams, and people flex and floss with their cars,” he said. “Here, people flex and floss with their bright colors.”

Ricci Shryock
Flexing with bright colors is a creative trope of Wiley’s. His “World Stage Lagos/Dakar” (2007-2008) series of paintings features men from West Africa in poses that recreate historical sculptures in front of bright, floral backgrounds. As the description on Wiley’s website reads, the series “highlights local representations of power and calls attention to the ways that black youth seek to represent themselves outside of colonial and national modes of representation.”
President Barack Obama's official portrait by Kehinde Wiley.

President Barack Obama’s official portrait by Kehinde Wiley. Credit: Courtesy National Portrait Gallery
But the painting he is most well-known for is his official portrait of former US President Barack Obama, which was unveiled last year. Wiley portrayed Obama seated, with a bright green floral background embracing the first African-American president. Choosing Wiley to create the portrait made not only artistic, but also narrative sense: For years Wiley has focused many of his paintings on representation, power and “what it means to be black and specifically male.”