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  • Writer's picturePaul G. Chandler

ArtSpeaks: Africa #1 – Dakar, Senegal: "The Paradox of Power."

Updated: Jun 9

Kehinde Wiley's "Maze of Power" exhibition

It is deeply inspiring to be here in Dakar, Senegal…the Land of “Teranga,” meaning the Land of “Hospitality” in the local language of Wolof. “Teranga” is certainly a word that beautifully explains much of the magic one experiences here.

It was a real privilege to visit artist Kehinde Wiley’s new exhibition at the Museum of Black Civilizations here in Dakar. Wiley is often known as the artist commissioned to create the official portrait of President Barack Obama, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In 2019, Kehinde Wiley, an African-American of Nigerian descent, opened a remarkable art residency space call Black Rock Senegal in Dakar, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Wiley’s new exhibition at Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations is exceptional in pretty much every imaginable way. Titled “Maze of Power,” Wiley uses the Western artistic genre of aristocratic, royal and military portraiture from the 17th-19th centuries, to explore power within an African culture, through portraits of contemporary African heads of state. It is a project he conceptualized and worked on for over 10 years. The works in the exhibition are not commissioned portraits, but rather it is Wiley’s own personal quest to explore the subject of power, which can be far-reaching in its influence, both negatively and positively. Wiley met with each contemporary African leader prior to painting their portrait. The end result is a fascinating exploration of “how power is consumed and transformed by each person holding it,” in the words of Wiley.

In some ways, I feel the exhibition could also be titled “The Paradox of Power,” as some of those depicted brought their peoples both advancement and hardship. Hence the exhibition by its very nature is a juxtaposition of both aspects of power.

Personally speaking, as someone who recently experienced a sense of powerlessness against others’ agendas, the exhibition resonated deeply with me.

See the remaining artwork below


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