Kehinde Wiley celebrates Brazilian culture
The Obamas’s future portraitist, Kehinde Wiley, depicts the abolition of slavery in Brazil.
Here Kehinde Wiley celebrates neither a statesman nor a representative of the Brazilian elite, but a humble young man from Rio’s favelas. In this portrait, a genre rooted in the centuries-old tradition of Europe, the African-American artist painted a background that directly refers to Brazilian culture. The floral background evokes chita fabrics, characterised by their bright colours and exotic floral prints. They were created in the late 19th century by adapting chintz, Indian fabrics massively imported into Europe by the Portuguese and Dutch in the 16th century. Thanks to local manufacturers, they quickly became more affordable, adopting tropical patterns and making their mark in popular festivals. Moreover, the panel that the subject proudly features here refers directly to the 1871 Rio Branco law, which stated that any child born in Brazil to slave parents was de facto free. This painting is part of the "The World Stage" project Wiley launched in 2006, which portrays black men and women living in France, Jamaica, Israel and India. The rise of the far right in Brazil in recent years has led to a growing unease.