Culture

A Pageant That's Beautiful in More Ways Than One

by Maxwell Williams

September 12, 2014
Kehinde Wiley, Venus at Paphos (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen 60 x 48 in (152.5 x 122 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

Artist Kehinde Wiley has been traveling the globe for the past few years, handpicking locals from various stops as muses for his lush, classical photographs and paintings. Wiley's work bestows powerful, complex auras upon his subjects, who are usually black men. The series, called The World Stage, has visited Jamaica, Israel, France, India, Brazil, Lagos, Dakar, China, and Sri Lanka.

The New York and Beijing-based Wiley's latest works celebrate the people of Haiti, where he held "beauty pageants" in Jacmel, Port-au-Prince, and Jalousie, in which winners were selected at random rather than on more standard pageant merits. A show of 12 of these portraits of Wiley's winners, as well as a documentary about the process, will be exhibited at Roberts & Tilton gallery in Los Angeles from September 13th through October 25th.

Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Sophia Camy (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen 60 x 48 in (152 x 122 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

From the show's official statement: "In the minds of most, Haiti has never sparked quick associations with tranquility or beauty, and rarely as a travel destination. On the contrary, its modern history, fraught with poverty and corruption and ravaged by a devastating natural disaster, relegated it to a seemingly perpetual Third World status. 

Yet, Wiley found beauty in Haiti, bringing it to the forefront by creating his own beauty 
pageants, in the long tradition of pageant culture native to the region. In previous World Stage
iterations, Wiley conducted his castings on the streets. With The World Stage: Haiti, he employed a different approach specific to the culture: open calls on the radio, posters around the streets of Jacmel, Jalouise and Port-au-Prince, culminating in beauty pageants. Across the Caribbean, pageants serve as mass entertainment events, allowing locals to do more than exhibit poise, talent and physical beauty; pageants are a manifestation of collective cultural values. Wiley’s pageant winners were chosen randomly rather than through a judging process. By showing the pageant contestants paintings of European masters on which the new works would be based, Wiley deepened the connection between both place and era."

Kehinde Wiley, The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Archival inkjet print on Epson Hot Press Bright 300 grain paper. Paper 27.5 x 22 inches, Image 21.321 x 16 inches. Edition of 30. Publisher: The Lapis Press, Culver City, California. To benefit Ciné Institute, Haiti.

In addition to the show, Wiley will be creating a limited edition print that will benefit Ciné Institute, a school in Jacmel that supports film and sound engineering students, with a focus on providing them with the tools to make works that are culturally tied to, and are made in, Haiti.

Kehinde Wiley, Venus Anadyomène (The World Stage: Haiti), 2014. Oil on linen 36 x 28 in (91.7 x 71 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

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A Pageant That's Beautiful in More Ways Than One