The issue of racism has been ever present in North America since the beginning of the seventeenth century. Over the years and even today we have seen the power struggle that existed and still may very well exist between Caucasians and African Americans. The work of artists Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker document and express this power struggle in their own unique styles. In Wiley’s first major exhibition called “Posing and Passing”, he based his paintings off fifteen century Italian Renaissance. Walkers’ work contains subject matter typical of eighteenth century America; she depicts the realities of slavery in the south through her silhouette images. Both Wiley and Walkers’ work focuses on the themes of race and racism as a conceptual framework.
In Kehinde Wiley’s artwork, he often creates depictions of modern African American men and women in the setting of the fifteenth to eighteenth century. He does so in order to give a sense of power back to African Americans. During the Renaissance only Caucasians would be the subject matter in paintings, so by him substituting these figures for African Americans, he is posing the question “why not?”. Kara Walkers’ silhouette images also concern themselves with a shift in power but not in the same way as Kehinde. Wiley’s work contains more of a power struggle between two groups, and I believe that is why she expresses certain individuals as being animal-like and none-human. Power is constantly shifting between the Caucasians and the African Americans. It is a war between two groups who see each other as animals. She represents this using grotesque depictions of both sides. Even though both artists have different styles, they are both effective at showing a change in power in the conceptual framework of race.
I do not think Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker believe that race relations have gotten better in the 20th and 21st century. If they saw race relations as being better I do not see them creating these works of art. They would not be trying to put power back in the hands of African Americans. I definitely think we have progressed as a post-racial society because equality has come so far from what it was, even fifty years ago. We no longer have segregation in schools and in other institutions, which has shown how far we have come. I strongly believe that the concept of a post-racial society exists in theory, however I also believe that we still behold minute notionsof racial difference. I think we inherently hold notions of racial difference because it may be human nature to do so, perhaps we instinctively and unknowingly judge people on appearance as a sort of “animal instinct”. Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker help to rectify these thoughts through there work and are continuously fighting for more awareness and equality on the issue of race as a conceptual framework.