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Kehinde Wiley Reinvents Old-School Portraiture at Boise Art Museum

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When it comes to redefining art, sometimes revamping an old form with unusual content is just what the doctor ordered.

New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley has taken classical European portraits and given them a whole new look. Because white males are generally depicted in these types of portraits, Wiley strove to create paintings in which young, urban Ethiopian, Jewish and Arab men living in Israel are represented in classic, powerful poses against a backdrop of traditional, ornate Hebrew-influenced designs.

Boise Art Museum is set to show Wiley's collection, The World Stage: Israel, beginning Saturday, June 22. Wiley's paintings touch on themes of black diaspora and mix traditional portrait styles with elements of urban youth culture. Instead of European noblemen standing proudly or lounging about on fine furniture, Wiley's work displays young men of color dressed in the fashion of today's youth—jerseys and ball caps, sneakers and baggy jeans. Behind images of modern young men living in Israel, brightly colored designs fill the background like expensive wallpaper.

Though Hebrew artistic influences are clearly present in the portraits, Wiley's work is displayed with an array of Israeli textiles and works on paper, courtesy of Ahavath Beth Israel synagogue in Boise. Wiley sought to include traditional works like Torah Ark curtains and a marriage contract, the style of which had influenced his own work.