Kehinde Wiley begins his anachronistic compositions by wandering casually through urban neighborhoods until someone’s distinct appearance and style catches his eye. He invites the person to his studio, where they page through art history books to select a classic portrait. The “model” recreates the pose, which Wiley photographs for reference. In such paintings as Officer of the Hussars, Wiley inserts young African Americans into a tradition that has previously excluded them. Sitting high on a leopard skin saddle and wielding a sabre, Wiley’s model mirrors the subject of Théodore Géricault’s The Officer of the Hussars (1812; Musée du Louvre). His garments—an athletic t-shirt, low-riding jeans, and Timberland shoes—differ from those of the European cavalry officer but serve to project a parallel image of confident masculine power. Bringing visual codes into convergence, Wiley answers what he believes is the most important question in contemporary America: “Why do we continue to undervalue the lives of young black men?”

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Kehinde Wiley
American, born 1977
Title
  • Officer of the Hussars
Date 2007
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Overall: 120 × 120 inches (304.8 × 304.8 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Friends of African and African American Art
Accession Number 2008.3
Department African American Art
On View Contemporary N284, Level 2 (see map)
2008-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY, 2015, pp. 68-69 (ill.).