Kehinde Wiley is the artist who painted the portrait of former president Barack Obama, which was unveiled by the Smithsonian Institution. Wiley is known for his portraits that draw inspiration from portraits of European luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte. He has painted the likenesses of singer Michael Jackson, as well as a number of well-known black Americans, while basing them on re-imagined European portraits.

In his painting titled “Judith and Holofernes,” Wiley depicts a black woman holding the head of a young white woman. In one hand, the black woman in the painting holds a sword, which she has presumably used to separate the victim’s head and body, and in the other she holds the braided red hair of the deceased woman. The story of the original Judith is found in the biblical Book of Judith, in which the heroine seduces and then beheads Holofernes, the male enemy of the Israelites. The biblical story went on to inspire countless paintings by artists stretching from the Renaissance to modern days.

Wiley has used the theme of Judith and Holofernes in at least two paintings, both of which feature the severed heads of white people.

Writing at the website of the Media Research Center, Brittany M. Hughes commented, “But while the majority of Wiley’s paintings focus on black subjects who aren’t holding the decapitated heads of white folks, that doesn’t really provide much comfort for the fact that our latest presidential portrait was done by a guy who’s apparently O.K. with glorifying racial violence.”




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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