Analysis Of Kehinde Wiley's After Letter

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Kehinde Wiley’s After Memling’s Portrait of a Man with a Letter reveals his pointed appropriation of Northern Renaissance Portraiture. By adhering to the fundamental aspects found in Memling’s landscape and composition, Kehinde blatantly incites reference; however, his black male substitute garbed in “street” attire politicizes his work within historical and contemporary contexts. Memling’s depictions are “of…the influential powerful merchant class of his day;” Kehinde aligns his figure with financial esteem to place the black male in a position of empowerment (“Memling”). Wiley identifies a socially undervalued group with historically hegemonic figures; therefore, he directs a Caucasian gaze (indoctrinated by western culture) at a group unjustly…show more content…
Memling’s subject possesses “the slightly distant, blank gaze that one encounters in crowded subway cars;” his depiction does not inspire “psychological introspection” (Jeromack). The figure is simply another member of the merchant class. However, “the active gaze of Wiley’s sitter…leads the viewer to think more carefully about the individual [life] and experience behind the individual depicted in the image” (“Memling”). However, it is the subtleties in his gaze that allow us to hypothesize Kehinde’s possible intentions (which range from historical poignancy to gender representation). In Wiley’s representation, the male’s head is turned away and his chin is titled slightly upward. We get a sense of judgmental superiority: the figure will not award us with a forward-looking gaze but rather glares back, over his shoulder, in disgust. It is known that “black citizens” were once forced to “avert their gaze in the presence of whites;” therefore, we should see this figure’s placement and view as “agency in a position that once rendered [blacks] vulnerable and subordinate” (Drake). Since Kehinde’s “white audience is…larger than his black audience,” it can be presumed that the gaze is directed at the privileged white male (Drake). However, this type of judgmental gaze, though historically powerful, is not characteristically masculine. Why choose an over-the-shoulder type scowl reminiscent of catty ladies who
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