“What I wanted to do was to look at the powerlessness that I felt as — and continue to feel at times — as a black man in the American streets. I know what it feels like to walk through the streets, knowing what it is to be in this body, and how certain people respond to that body. This dissonance between the world that you know, and then what you mean as a symbol in public, that strange, uncanny feeling of having to adjust for ... this double consciousness.”Through-out history the power to be seen or not seen, to control your image, images that would likely outlast you, has been dominated by the wealthy and powerful. The type of historical paintings Wiley is mimicking were created primary at the behest and patronage of wealthy and powerful European men. Speaking of patrons of painting during the Renaissance, anthropologist Levi-Strauss explained it as, “…immense fortunes were being amassed in Florence and elsewhere, and rich Italian merchants looked upon painters as agents, who allowed them to confirm their possession of all that was beautiful and desirable in the world (Berger 86).” John Berger goes further in suggesting that the art of any period serves the idealogical interests of the ruling class (86). Africans, indigenous people, and the institutions of slavery and colonization that were unfolding globally when many of these traditional European master works were created, were rare subject matter. The dominance of Western art in art history has habituated us to expect the visual conventions of these paintings. To see bodies of African descent, in essence, inhabit scenes of European royalty or history painting creates a conflicted reaction of both familiarity and tension.
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