Sculpture of an African American Man with Dreads Unveiled in former Confederate Capital
"There's something changing in these winds'" Kehinde Wiley's 'Rumors of War' unveiled in Richmond, VA
Nearly a century after the last Confederate statue was erected on Monument Avenue, a crowd massed Tuesday beneath gray skies and drizzle at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley's response: a muscular, triumphant African American astride a horse, looking defiantly toward the sky.
They cheered and held phones aloft, hoping to snap keepsakes of "Rumors of War" as handlers tugged on a tarp that, bogged down by rain, clung to the statue's dreadlocks.
Minutes passed, but Richmond's All City High School Marching Band played on. The majorettes twirled their batons. Organizers welcomed the thousand-plus attendees inside VMFA, but most waited outside in the rain.
“Pay attention, y’all,” said Richmond resident Rameek Gordon, 41, while streaming the event on Facebook Live. “This is history. It’s coming down, y’all.”
"Rumors of War" is modeled after the monument to Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart on Monument Avenue, which Wiley saw when he was visiting Richmond three years ago for his career retrospective, "Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic," at VMFA. Wiley's version depicts an African American wearing ripped jeans and Nike high-top sneakers.
The statue is stunning in size: Cast in bronze, “Rumors of War” is 27 feet tall, 25 feet long and 15 wide, and rests atop a giant limestone pedestal.
Wearing a colorful suit with a Nigerian-inspired design, Wiley greeted Richmond like a conquering general.
“I couldn’t think of any place better than the capital of the Confederacy” for the statue's permanent home, he said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Rumors of War” was initially unveiled in New York's Times Square in September.
Known best for his official presidential portrait of Barack Obama, the 42-year-old Wiley has built his career addressing issues of race and power by painting minorities in the classical poses typically associated with wealthy and powerful white men.
“There is something moving in the culture,” Wiley said during the ceremony. “There’s something changing in these winds. I think we’re all fed up with a lot of things. I think artists have that unique responsibility to use that energy for something else. I’m tired of the destruction. I’m tired of the strife. I think we can do better.”
He talked about how the face of the statue's equestrian rider is based on a composite of six different African American faces.
“I want this ... to be about black men and their place in this society. A society that can say yes to black men,” Wiley told those gathered.
Said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney: “It’s taken more than 100 years, but the rest of Richmond residents finally have a monument of a man on a horse that looks like them."
John Lukhard with Richmond Rescue Co. 2 works to remove the final part of covering that became stuck on Kehinde Wiley's statue "Rumors of War" during the unveiling ceremony at the VMFA Tuesday, December 10, 2019. Lukhard said "everyday is a little different" and credited fellow company members in the effort as they were holding the ladder. The tarp became wet after rain midday.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks with Freddie Mae Wiley, mother of Kehinde Wiley. Kehinde's statue "Rumors of War" was unveiled at the VMFA Tuesday, December 10, 2019.
Illuminated and finally uncovered at the VMFA, after the official unveiling is Kehinde Wiley's "Rumors of War" on Dec. 10, 2019