All the world is Kehinde Wiley’s stage

Kehinde Wiley, Alios Itzhak (The World Stage: Israel), 2011, oil and gold enamel on canvas. The Jewish Museum, New York

Three young men, chins cocked, command your attention. It’s as if you’re not in a museum looking up at them; rather they’re alive and present, appraising you. What makes Kehinde Wiley’s photorealistic oil portraits of Arab and Ethiopian Israelis so majestic is neither their grand scale nor the gold enamel ornamentation encircling his subjects. It’s their ostentatious gestures, their palpable swagger, that the painter captures.

Wiley is a pickup artist. For the latest chapter of his “World Stage” series on display at the Jewish Museum, he found muses on the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Lod, Israel. His signature — posing men of color in the tradition of  classic European masterworks — empowers the marginalized within Diaspora communities. This formula works well in Israel, a land of both promise and conflict where minorities — Ethiopian Jews who emigrated en masse in the 1980s and ’90s and Israeli-born Arabs comprising 20 percent of the population — continue to face prejudice. Wiley also uses his medium to examine the globalization of black American culture, particularly hip-hop, which resonates in these groups abroad because of what it represents: defiance, sovereignty, a voice.

For the painter and his 14 models, it’s not only power that has become accessible, but the region’s rich history, too. A latticework of floral motifs and Judaic iconography — including mystical creatures, zodiac symbols, columns and upside-down hands — sweep in and around the men’s bodies, integrating the old and new, the foreground and background. Wiley calls this “the friction between beginning, middle and end.” Beautifully and meticulously curated, the museum juxtaposes Wiley’s contemporary works with artifacts from its own collection. They are preserved under glass cases opposite the hanging paintings, wherein they see a new life, context and audience.

While the exhibit’s centerpiece is a portrait of Beta-Israeli Alios Itzhak, the highlight of the show is a row of four smaller, intimate likenesses.

Among the first three who face you straight on  is rapper Kalkidan Mashasha, also the most striking. With a self-assured posture but gentle gaze he proudly flaunts the Ethiopian flag patched to his sleeve. In the fourth painting, Mukat Brhan — pierced, dreadlocked, a YouTube logo printed on his T-shirt — casts his gaze not ahead, but aloft. Entrenched in his roots — the bright green vines and Hebrew texts weaving behind him — this Gen Nexter looks to the future. Maybe he’s hopeful, like Wiley himself, that someday, regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religion, we can all find common ground.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Easter 2014: The year's best bonnets

It's Easter, and that means it's time for Fifth Avenue to turn into a veritable catwalk of bonnet-wearers. The annual march, which kicks off at…

Local

Woman arrested for attempted kidnapping of baby in…

Authorities said that a Queens woman behind an attempted kidnapping of an 8-month-old baby boy was arrested on Saturday.

Local

Hate crime charge in attack on Sikh Columbia…

A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime after he allegedly pulled the beard of a Sikh Columbia University professor as part…

Local

NYPD arrest man after finding body inside plastic…

Police said they found a man stuffed inside a plastic container in a Brooklyn home. Authorities arrested Joshua Simser, 24, in connection to the death

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

The Word

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer drama continues

  News broke late last week that "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer is being sued by a man who said Singer molested…

The Word

Miley Cyrus cancels more dates, tweeting from hospital

Miley Cyrus is reportedly so sick that she's had to postpone more tour dates. We know this because she has been sitting in a hospital…

Music

Loop are, er, um, back in the loop

Experimental noise rock band Loop's three mid-1980s to early-1990s albums, “Heavens End,” “Fade Out” and “A Gilded Eternity,” were mercifully reissued.

NHL

Rangers blow two-goal lead in Game 2 loss…

The Rangers got out to an early 2-0 lead in Game 2 and the Garden was rocking. But it went downhill quickly from there.

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.