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Nigerian-American Artist Kehinde Wiley Unveils New Sculpture in New York’s Times Square

By Rachel George

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Known for his floral portrait of our President Barack Obama, Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley unveiled a sculpture of a black soldier in the middle of New York City’s Times Square last Friday. 

Pedestrians couldn’t the newest attraction in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Manhattan, or the sound of Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School marching band during the unveiling.

The 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture, called “Rumor of War,” depicts a black man wearing a hoodie, ripped jeans, and locs while mounted on a horse. Wiley has built his career on rectifying the absence of black and brown women and men in art historical and cultural context. His thought-provoking artwork attempts to use equestrian portraiture to embrace the fetishization of state violence afflicted against bodies daily. 

“New York and Times Square, in particular, sit at the crossroads of human movement on a global scale,” he said in a statement. “To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

Artist Kehinde Wiley | Getty Images

This is Wiley’s largest sculpture to date and his first major piece since the grand success of his Obama portrait. The project mirrors the pose of the Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue, hence the man looking over his shoulder.

“I’m a black man walking those streets. I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear. What does that feel like, physically, to walk a public space and to have your state, your country, your nation say, ‘This is what we stand by.’ No. We want more. We demand more,” he told the Associated Press. “Today we say ‘yes’ to something that looks like us.”

“Rumors of War” will be on display near the Broadway Plaza between 46th and 47th. The sculpture will be moved to its permanent home at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond in December.

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