Cuba and the Carnivalesque Takes Heart Stage in Kehinde Wiley’s New Portrait Sequence ‘HAVANA’


“Portrait of Yaima Polledo & Isabel Pozo” (2023), oil on linen, 108 x 81 15/16 inches. Photograph by Max Yawney. All photos © Kehinde Wiley, shared with permission courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery

Amidst his signature verdant backdrops, Kehinde Wiley (beforehand) situates his topics within the middle of the composition, chins tilted up with regal gazes, enveloped within the grandeur of colourful patterns. The artist is understood for monumental portraits in oil that reframe European portray traditions, particularly referencing court docket portraiture wherein royal or noble households—nearly solely white—had been portrayed in extravagant gown symbolizing wealth and energy. Wiley flips the narrative by positioning traditionally marginalized Black and Brown figures entrance and middle.

Wiley’s newest physique of labor titled HAVANA, on view now at Sean Kelly in New York, continues the artist’s curiosity within the cultures and traditions of the African diaspora. He attracts on two separate visits to Cuba, first in 2015 and once more in 2022, exploring the carnivalesque phenomenon in Western tradition, which manifests in quite a few colourful, celebratory occasions around the globe, similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Sporting layers of vivid material and carrying juggling sticks or devices, Wiley captures the individuality and inventive focus of every individual. He says:

The performers are every completely different—there’s so many various factors of view, so many various life experiences, however one factor that unites all of them is the very sense that America dominates the financial fortune of Cuba. The connection between America and Cuba is one which has been fraught with a fascination, a suspicion, an intrigue, and a cultural weight.

Wiley references notable artists like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder, who across the flip of the twentieth century explored comparable themes. By portraits of acrobats, dancers, and musicians, Wiley examines the political historical past, financial hardship, and thirst for creative freedom in Cuba, specializing in circuses and carnivals as websites of celebration, disruption, and self-expression.


“Portrait of Erika Grey Ferro” (2023), oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches. Photograph by Max Yawney

On his first go to to Cuba, Wiley stopped by the Escuela Nacional de Circo, or the Nationwide Circus College, to study concerning the historical past of the medium within the nation and its nationwide circus, Circuba. Previous to the Cuban Revolution, the nation was house to quite a few family-run firms, however in the present day, there is just one. Throughout his second go to, he met with members of Raices Profundas, a bunch thought to be one of many world’s most genuine performing ensembles within the Yoruba custom.

Like in lots of components of the world, quite a few cultural histories intersect in Cuba because of the interval of European colonization, which resulted within the compelled migration of Indigenous populations and centuries of enslavement of African peoples. Over time, circuses and elaborate avenue events grew to become “alternatives for the previously enslaved to have interaction in moments of freedom and charm that had been usually forbidden,” reads an exhibition assertion. “The carnival, Mardi Gras, and avenue processions had been occasions wherein chaos might come up, love could possibly be expressed, and a non secular embrace of non secular traditions could possibly be manifest.”

HAVANA continues at Sean Kelly via June 17, which features a three-channel movie that includes among the performers. See extra from the artist on his web site or Instagram, and you may additionally need to try Massive Chief Demond Melancon’s elaborately beaded Mardi Gras costumes.


“Portrait of Rassiel Alfonso Leonard & Nairobys C. Placeres Riviero” (2023), oil on linen, 108 x 72 inches. Photograph by Max Yawney

Left: “Evel Antonio Examine” (2023), oil on paper, 44 x 30 inches. Proper: “Jorge Gonzales Acosta Examine” (2023), oil on paper, 44 x 30 inches. Pictures by Adam Reich

“Portrait of Yadiel Arrozaceno Dorticós” (2023), oil on linen, 72 x 60 inches

“Portrait of Anet Arias” (2023), oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches. Photograph by Max Yawney

“Portrait of Daniel Paiol López” (2023), oil on linen, 96 x 72 inches. Photograph by Max Yawney

Left: “Juan Cabrera Pulido Examine” (2023), oil on paper, 45 x 31 inches. Proper: “Misahel Hernández Examine” (2023), oil on paper, 44 x 30 inches. Pictures by Adam Reich

“Portrait of Tony di heon Gonzales & Armando Leon Aquirre” (2023), oil on linen, 108 x 72 inches

“Portrait of Juan Cabrera Pulido & Emilio Hernandez Gonzalez” (2023), oil on linen, 108 x 72 inches

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