Has Wiley the artist sold out?

2010-06-30 17:07

Vulgar is an appropriate word to describe the marriage of New

York-based painter Kehinde Wiley and global sportswear brand Puma.

Wiley is a reputable artist who reportedly runs his two studios

like a factory, with an army of assistants who ensure that his work is churned

out for quick sale.

This young Californian native, who is connected to Africa via his

Nigerian father, flew to Cape Town when his four decorative paintings went on


This Puma commission was to coincide with the soccer World Cup as

part of its grand marketing plan.

Wiley’s large paintings depict three celebrated African soccer

players individually and together in the Unity Painting.

Wiley, who has charmed the United States arts circuit, has in

essence disfigured his signature portraiture of modern black men by using it to

sell the Puma brand.

He’s dressed the soccer players in Puma’s African Unity Kit, which

bears the brand’s logo.

This kit is on sale alongside Puma shoes and clothing that Wiley

has designed.

The Cape Town installation of paintings, T-shirts, shoes, photos

and videos imposes that Puma consumes and should be consumed.

Behind-the-scenes photos show Wiley interacting with the soccer

players he painted. It also shows camera crews crowding the process, fuelling

the machinery to document every aspect of it for mass consumption.

Wiley’s earlier works had more credibility. When he met his

Nigerian father after almost two decades of separation, he decided to paint

portraits of his dad.

This set him on a path of transporting images of young black men

into a range of settings they would usually not dominate. Those were a statement

in so many ways.

In contrast, Wiley’s artistic statement about these paintings is

dead boring.

“Africa has been drawn apart for a number of years ... it’s very

poignant to have moments in which African countries and sports players can come

together,” he says, referring to his paintings.

The images may as well have been hung in a Puma shop or one of

those curio tourist stops on Long Street a block up from the makeshift

exhibition space where Cape Town’s pretentious hipsters did not disappoint on

opening night.

»Legends Of Unity runs at

Studio One, 186 Bree Street, Cape Town, until July 3.


Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.