Artist Kehinde Wiley portrays the hidden female figures of Dalston

Kehinde Wiley: The Yellow Wallpaper, William Morris Gallery

Women from Dalston are at the centre of Nigerian-America artist Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition in Hackney.

The LA-based artist usually portrays celebrities such as Barack Obama, The Notorious Big or Ice T. But this time he chose instead to feature women he scouted in the market places of Dalston.

Wiley said he was drawn by these women’s “dress, attitude, looks, carriage or charisma”, creating a series of colorful and vibrant portrait inspired by William Morris floral motifs while also responding to American writer Charlotte Gilman’s feminist text The Yellow Paper, hence the same title as the series.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a story of a woman isolated in her bedroom after having being diagnosed with hysteria leading her to develop an obsession with wallpaper. This 1892 novel explores the results of women denied independence and freedom.

Wiley said: “The Yellow Wallpaper is a work of literary fiction that explores the contours of femininity and insanity. This exhibition seeks to use the language of the decorative to reconcile blackness, gender, and a beautiful and terrible past.”

Challenging the initial narrative of the novel, Wiley represents his subjects as strong, powerful, proud and independent and portrays these unknown black woman figures often unseen in this socially complex society.

In an interview Wiley said: “The correlations, between the sense of powerlessness and the sense of invention that happens in a person who’s not seen, who’s not respected and whose sense of autonomy is in question. […] These same issues can be seen in conversations concerning race and class. In Perkins Gilman’s case, it was to do with gender, but it made me want to explore different types of confinement.”

Visit the exhibition at the William Morris Gallery before May 25.

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