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  • Welcome to The Daily Show.

  • Thank you. Good to be here.

  • And, uh, congratulations on what I can only assume

  • must feel like a whirlwind ride.

  • It has been quite the ride indeed.

  • You-You've been an artist for a very long time,

  • but-but you can't deny--

  • getting to create the official portrait

  • for the first black president of the United States

  • was one of the highlights of your life, I'm assuming.

  • I'm assuming it's probably going to be on my tombstone.

  • (laughs)

  • I have to say that being the first African American artist

  • to paint the portrait of the first African American, uh,

  • -president is quite the honor as well. -(cheering, applause)

  • -I can imagine. -Um...

  • And then the question is, how do you make that something

  • that is vibrant?

  • How do you make painting alive in the 21st century?

  • -Right. -Those are big challenges.

  • There must be a lot of pressure that comes with painting

  • tho-those portraits as well,

  • because it-it's not just a portrait for Obama.

  • That's-that's a portrait that's supposed to live

  • -throughout time. -That's right. That's right.

  • In fact, what you have is a situation where it's like,

  • "No pressure or anything, but this is history."

  • -(laughs) -And... what we wanted was something that played

  • into all the rules around dignity and respect

  • and power but also a portrait that communicated who Obama is.

  • You know, he-he really wanted a portrait

  • that didn't have all that sort of pomp and circumstance.

  • If you look at the portrait closely,

  • he's leaning in towards the viewer.

  • Uh, he's dressed rather casually for a presidential portrait.

  • And there's a...

  • -there's a bunch of flowers and leaves behind him. -Right.

  • -There are a bunch. Yeah. -(laughs)

  • Which people had never seen before in a portrait.

  • I-I remember when it came out, there were a lot of people

  • making jokes, where they're like,

  • "We've never seen this many leaves."

  • And it-- Like, it felt more-- It felt less

  • like it was just about the subject

  • and more about the subject in the world they were in

  • -more than ever before. -Well-- Certainly, certainly.

  • And-and the memes were everywhere.

  • I remember seeing Bart Simpson coming out of the, uh...

  • -coming out of the leaves. -(laughs) Oh, the Homer Simpson

  • -in the bushes? -Right. Right. That's right.

  • But what-what few people don't realize

  • is that those flowers are telling a story about his life.

  • So, there are flowers from Kenya,

  • there are flowers from Indonesia,

  • -there's the state flower of Hawaii, there's the... -Oh, wow.

  • And so it really charts his life globally as a means of saying,

  • "This man is at once very American

  • but engaging on a global conversation."

  • -That's beautiful. That is really beautiful. -Yeah.

  • What did he say when he saw the portrait?

  • I think-- Jesus, I can't quite remember,

  • because we were all onstage.

  • The first time he saw the portrait was that moment,

  • where we were pulling down, uh...

  • -That's a lot of pressure. -Oh, my God.

  • No, I mean, like, that's-- I would, like,

  • show it to him beforehand and be like, "What do you..."

  • 'Cause, I mean, like, what if you pull down the thing

  • -and then he's like, "Uh, uh..."? -(laughs)

  • Well, weren't you stressed at that moment?

  • I was stressed more than you could imagine,

  • but when-when I get stressed, I kind of

  • just... pretend to be very composed.

  • -Right. -My hands are shaking.

  • Everything's sort of moving in slow motion,

  • and I just sat there and took it all in.

  • And since then, you have been on a journey

  • that-that has really been beautiful to watch,

  • because, you know, people have noticed your art,

  • and-and your art is-is art that I feel needs to be noticed,

  • because you do something that's really interesting.

  • You know, you-you create art

  • -that we're familiar with in an unfamiliar way. -Hmm.

  • One of the... one of the more interesting pieces

  • that you created was Rumors of War.

  • Now, I hope some people saw it when it was in New York City.

  • -Right. -Right, and-and it... it's a...

  • it's a beautiful, I mean, statue that's...

  • I mean, it's a Confederate statue in its style,

  • and yet, you come up close,

  • and you see this young black man who's wearing Jordans,

  • and he's got jeans on, and he's got a hoodie.

  • And he's riding this horse in a way

  • that we associate with Confederate statues.

  • What-what was the symbolism,

  • and why did you choose to create that piece?

  • Right. Uh, I mean, Confederate sculptures have been haunting

  • and terrorizing Americans for, uh, what?

  • A good 50, 60 years now.

  • Most people think these things go back to slavery. They don't.

  • They actually go back to, uh, as late as the 1930s and '50s.

  • -Wow. -These-these sculptures were designed

  • to remind African-Americans of their place in society.

  • And they're still in major parts of the South.

  • I went to Richmond on a trip,

  • and I saw one of these sculptures, and I said,

  • "You know what? This is a language that's powerful."

  • -Right. "And it's one that I want to be able to use

  • to sort of inhabit it, to haunt it."

  • And so I found several African-American men,

  • merged all of their features,

  • created this kind of everyman on a horse,

  • and recreated those monuments for the twenty-first century.

  • -Right. -To create sort of a new way of saying "yes"

  • to people who happen to look like me.

  • It is... it is really beautiful in how it does that,

  • because I remember going to Times Square when it was here,

  • -because it's now moved to Virginia. -Right.

  • But-but I remember standing there, and I was shocked

  • at how many people were coming up and just pointing.

  • Little kids were going like, "Look, look-- that hair.

  • -Like, you know, it's got dreadlocks like me." -Right.

  • "And, you know, he's got this."

  • And it-it really was a touching moment

  • that people take for granted

  • where people saw art that represented themselves,

  • -which some haven't seen for a very long time. -Right.

  • Yeah. I mean, that's the power of art.

  • We all go to museums, and we all feel inspired

  • by these images of dignity and grace.

  • And it means something

  • when young African-Americans, kids, uh, can go into a museum

  • and see someone who looks like themselves.

  • It gives a sense of, "I belong

  • -to the conversation around power." -Right.

  • Who has it, who's allowed to inherit that-that dignity.

  • You have a piece that is now going to be, um, on display.

  • And this is really interesting.

  • It's called Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps.

  • -Yeah. -And that-that piece is really gorgeous,

  • because it-it was designed

  • to mimic the original Napoleon piece.

  • -Right. -Right? But-but again, you've changed it to be

  • something different, something, and it's going to be hanging up

  • right next to the... the Napoleon piece in Brooklyn.

  • WILEY: It is a bizarre situation where we're actually

  • dealing with a historical conversation.

  • -I'm borrowing the same pose from... -Right.

  • a painting that was made by David

  • during the time of Napoleon.

  • And now I've got a young black man in...

  • uh, in jeans... Uh, excuse me.

  • -He's wearing, uh, uh... camouflage... -Right.

  • and Timbs and he's embodying that sense

  • of Brooklyn bravado, but within the language

  • -of, uh, great European paintings. -Mm-hmm.

  • What I wanted to do was to be able to have

  • the original historical object and my object

  • in the same room, and the Brooklyn Museum said yes.

  • So, now we have an opportunity for the first time

  • -to have this temporal shift, this rift. -Right, right, right.

  • This ability to look at not just

  • some guy who's playing with history,

  • but the object from the past in the same room.

  • It's, it's a, it's a great honor.

  • One thing you've been commended for and-and it really is

  • special to see, is how you portray

  • women in your art, as well.

  • You have beautiful portraits

  • of women-- black women who have natural hair,

  • but they also, they-they're in regal positions

  • that we associate with, you know, like, the British Empire.

  • -Sure. -Monarchies wearing armor, you have, you have

  • women who-- you know, it's pictures that we associate

  • -with-with-with masters... -Right.

  • as opposed to those they've... that have been enslaved.

  • And-and these women are-are grand in a,

  • -in a very different way than we're used to seeing. -Right.

  • Why do you choose to do that?

  • What, like, what is the purpose behind that?

  • Well, artists paint what they're familiar with.

  • I paint what I've known, and what I've known are

  • powerful black women who've given me a sense of...

  • self-worth, a sense of dignity.

  • And that is what you see mirrored in my work.

  • And sure, there's a little bit of play that goes on.

  • There's a play with, like, how silly the,

  • the clothing looked back in, you know,

  • -500 years ago in paintings. -Right, right, right.

  • The same thing's gonna happen now. I mean, this-this, the,

  • the contemporary clothes that the women wear in my paintings

  • is gonna start looking really silly,

  • just like those silly, uh, neck things that are,

  • in, you know, all those old Dutch paintings.

  • -Oh, yes, yes, those things. -Right, right?

  • I think they were to catch breadcrumbs or something.

  • Yeah, I remember those, yeah.

  • Well, you know, you can imagine that in 300 years,

  • this stuff decays.

  • It's just gonna become a blend in time, I feel like.

  • Well, we all, uh, decay.

  • We all leave this earth.

  • But these paintings will be here for centuries.

  • And what I want to be able to do is to say yes

  • to people who look like me.

  • Yes to moments of grace in small things

  • that we often times ignore.

  • And to make us all feel as though

  • we were there for something that mattered.

  • (applause, cheering)

  • I think you do an amazing job of that.

  • -Thank you very much. -Thank you so much for being on the show.

  • Kehinde's exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum

  • opens January 24 and his show in London opens February 21.

  • Kehinde Wiley, everybody.

Welcome to The Daily Show.

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Kehinde Wiley - Creating Art That’s Familiar in an Unfamiliar Way | The Daily Show

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