Even today, Black artists are fighting for recognition inside museums.
Displaying Kehinde Wiley’s “Willem van Heythuysen” inside the South Great Hall at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts represents an acknowledgement of the discrimination faced by African American creators and beckons them into a space their work belongs but is seldom seen. The entire European art exhibit takes on a new meaning when presented with this painting: Black Americans’ place in history cannot be ignored. (Left) Willem van Heythuysen. Photo by Katherine Wetzel/Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The J.E.B. Stuart Monument as well as the other statues on Monument Avenue have long been a point of contention among Richmond citizens. As the debate carried on, Wiley proceeded with his own plan to counter the implications of Monument Avenue, “Rumors of War.” While “Willem van Heythuysen” fills a single hall, “Rumors of War” loomed throughout not only the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exterior but the J.E.B. Stuart Monument as well, carving additional space for the Black community. (Left) Sculpture Created by Kehinde Wiley for VMFA. Photo by Travis Fullerton/Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
By uncovering Blackness in the places it has been buried, “Willem van Heythuysen,” “Rumors of War,” and Marcus-David Peters Circle return these sanctuaries to Black Americans. Kehinde Wiley understood the larger purpose of “Willem van Heythuysen” and “Rumors of War.” So must have the creators of Marcus-David Peters Circle as they doused the Robert E. Lee Memorial in color. Reaching outside of themselves and permeating the air around them, these works are catalysts of change, a step toward a more accessible, inclusive Richmond. (Left) The Robert E. Lee monument on July 24, with projections by Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui, at the center of what is now being called Marcus-David Peters Circle. Photo by Brian Palmer/Reveal News.
© 2021 Ali Funk. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.