Kehinde Wiley's Stark Vision of Resilience, 'An Archaeology of Silence' Speaks Volumes at MFAH

Kehinde Wiley's Stark Vision of Resilience, 'An Archaeology of Silence' Speaks Volumes at MFAHSource: X/kehindewiley
Alyssa Ford
Published on November 28, 2023

The provocative works of Kehinde Wiley, whose showcase, "An Archaeology of Silence," unveils a stunning journey through pain, memory, and resilience at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). Wiley, renowned for his lush portrayal of former President Barack Obama, now confronts viewers with a visceral series of paintings and sculptures engaging with themes of black suffering and strength.

These works not only echo the heroes and martyrs of European art, but they also resonate dramatically with the anguished realities faced by people of color, with Wiley noting the figures in his pieces "suffer under the specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world", as mentioned by CultureMap Houston, 

The exhibition's tour de force is its eponymous sculpture, a fallen figure atop a horse mirroring Wiley's 2019 piece "Rumors of War," a response to the removal of Confederate statues following George Floyd's murder.

The showcase debuted at The de Young Museum in San Francisco, and the conversation around it reflected the nation's grappling with repeated police violence against black men. Here, the painful beauty of Wiley's pieces compelled the museum to introduce a "respite room" for emotional guests, a testament to the work's intensity and a perhaps necessary concession in these fraught times, says the New York Times.

Fans of the iconic artist can also find Wiley-inspired merchandise at the MFAH gift shop, with proceeds benefiting the Black Rock Coalition. Beyond the commercial, the exhibition, with its "chapel-like" solemnity and lighting akin to a dramatic spotlight on history itself, isn't shy about its intention to provoke more than just aesthetic appreciation. As Akilah Cadet, diversity consultant to the de Young, expressed in an interview with the New York Times, "You will be seeing Black Death, and it can bring feelings of emotion for you as a white person wherever you are in your journey—and as a black person in mourning or wherever you are in your journey."