Kehinde Wiley
(American, born 1977)

Houdon Paul-Louis, 2011

Bronze with polished stone base

Though Kehinde Wiley is best known for his portraits of African American men in contemporary clothes, posed in stances drawn from paintings of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, here he shifts from painting to sculpture. In both the lift and the return of the young man’s head and the open V of his zippered collar, this bronze references an eighteenth-century marble bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon (see illustration). In substituting male for female, black for white, and present for past, Wiley upends the earlier sculpture even as he quotes it. His interpretation encourages us to acknowledge the limitations and assumptions of representation and provokes a reconsideration of both stereotype and portraiture.

From Vespasian
to Trajan

Roman Portraits AD 68–117

The suicide of Nero in 68 led to civil war, with three emperors in a row during 69. An army commander, Vespasian, brought a new dynasty to power, the Flavians, His sons Titus and Domitian succeeded hi, the latter being murdered in 96. A System of adoption was then introduced, with Trajan as the first of the ‘Adoptive Emperors’.

Room 13 has imperial portraits in three typical sizes ,colossal, natural and miniature. Just as typical are the bust and statue formats. Like other emperors, Trajan might appear in the guise of Greek Hero or with divine attributes. Wealthy Romans followed suit: A fine lady might become Venus herself! her coiffure joins others in the room in a show of hairstyles.

Elvis Mask for Nyau Society

Unidentified Chewa artist, circa 1977
Central or Southern region, Malawi
Wood, paint, fiber, cloth

Although most of the cultures represented in African Innovations have changed dramatically since the works were first created, genres such as masquerade persist in many regions, where they adapt to an even more interconnected world. This make for the Nyau society, a Chewa institution that governs the spiritual realm of death and the ancestors, depicts Elvis Presley.
    Historically, all Chewa men belonged to the secret Nyau society. The society’s masks represent the spirits of the deceased, but they may also represent wild bush spirits or caricature personalities from the wider community. Outsiders—including Swahili slave traders, British officials, the Virgin Mary, and other iconic foreigners such as Elvis Presley—have been considered representative of antisocial traits and undesirable values.

Sculptor’s Model of a Royal Head

Late Period to early Ptolemaic Period, 381–2nd century B.C.E.
Provenance not known

The incised grid lines on the sides and back of this sculpture and on the lappets of its headdress suggest that the figure  was a sculptor’s model, or trial piece. The rectangular protrusion, from which a uraeus (a cobra on the forehead) would have been modeled, as well as the chisel marks on the chest, support this. However, because royal busts of this type were commonly found in temples, they may have served as a votive, or offering, to a divinity in his or her shrine.

Face of Amunhotep II

Red granite
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, circa 1426–1400 B.C.
Provenance not known

The faces on most statues of Amunhotep II differ slightly from those of his two immediate predecessors. Compared with the sculptures of Thutmose III and Hatshesut this statue’s face is a little longer, the eyes somewhat narrower, the brows a bit straighter, the nose slightly thicker, and the mouth less curved. Each change is minute, but together they create a distinctive, recognizable image of Amunhotep II. This face is not a portrait, but an official image conceived by the chief royal sculptors to communicate the ideal physical appearance of Amunhotep II.

Gelede Mask

Unidentified Yoruba artist, late 19th or early 20th century
Southwestern Nigeria
Wood, pigment

Gelede masks, such as this one, are worn by male Yoruba dancers at festivals honoring the woman of the community, living and dead, especially the powerful Great Mothers, including both the elderly women of the community and the ancestors of Yoruba society. The gelede performances entertain and educate, and document elements of everyday life, such as the woman’s head tie in this example. Through their movements, gelede dancers express Yoruba ideals of male and female behavior.

Baleen Whale Mask, 19th century

Unidentified Kwakwaka'wakw artist
Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbian, Canada
Cedar wood, hide, cotton cord, nails, pigment

Masks like this are owned by a particular person who has inherited the rights to make, wear, and perform with it during potlatch ceremonies, elaborate communal celebrations. The mask is worn along the dancer’s back while he imitates the swimming and diving of the whale by manipulating cords to move the flippers, tail, and jaw. Others sing, shake rattles, and drum during the presentation. Such performances reaffirm and validate their owner’s rights to their clan’s history, honor their ancestors, and bring the mask to life.