Judith means me. This Judith.
This Judith is in LOVE with the art of Kehinde Wiley. And head-over-heals for “An Economy of Grace.”
That is not to say I do not also love his fabulous depictions of “urban” men from around the world – but there are too many to discuss here and this blog is not about men anyway. No, it is the placement of African American women from the streets of New York in poses from European classics that enthralls me.
The reason why I am painting women now is in order to come to terms with depictions of gender and the way it is featured art historically–a means to broaden the conversation… “An Economy of Grace” is an investigation of the presence of women in painting, but in a broader sense, it is a investigation of the negotiation of power in image-making. For this body of work I looked to 18th and 19th-century society portraits for inspiration. At that time it was common practice for nobility to commission unique clothing for portraiture. By working with a major fashion house on this project (Givenchy), we’re revamping that tradition for the 21st century. (1)
The 12 works in the series continue his style of elaborate decorative backgrounds (which also satisfies my love for William Morris and wallpaper in all it’s ecstacy of gardens and jungles), but adds six gowns designed for the project by Riccardo Tisci, the creative director of Givenchy. (2)
The artist and designer roamed the Louvre discussing the concept of the project: “society’s ideals of feminine beauty and the frequent marginalization of women of color.”
The name of the exhibit further explores the issue. Wiley says, “The phrase ‘an economy of grace’ speaks directly to the ways in which we manufacture and value grace and honor, the people we choose to bestow that honor upon, and the ways in which grace is at once an ideal that we strive for and something that is considered to be a natural human right.”
And as the centerpiece is Judith – larger than life, bold, triumphant, glorious. set amid a background of exotic, heavy flowered vines – shifting from orange to red and accented by cornflower blue – Judith appears intoxicated with the sensual explosion of the setting and the victory over Holofernes. This is not Carravagio’s Judith – who wears an expression of doubt. This is Allori’s Judith – but more. More power, more satisfaction, more in-your-face.
To add to the exhilaration, consider this: Judith and Holofernes is 10 feet tall. Which means I MUST plan a trip to Raleigh to be completely overwhelmed.
(1) /www.kehindewiley.com, Frequently asked questions (viewed Mar 16, 2013)
(2) Arts Observer, Kehinde Wiley Finally Painted a Portrait of a Lady, May 29, 2012
(3) The North Carolina Museum of Art, Flickr: Installation of new Kehinde Wiley acquisition, August 28, 2012