The Yellow Wallpaper is an exhibition of new portraits by American artist Kehinde Wiley. This will be the first solo exhibition of new work shown by Wiley at a UK museum and also the first to feature exclusively female portraits. The works feature women that the artist met on the streets of Dalston and offer a visual response to American novelist Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s acclaimed feminist text, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892).
‘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.’ — Kehinde Wiley
Gilman’s text is a semi-autobiographical tale which sees her narrator confined to her bedroom after being diagnosed with hysteria and explores the disastrous consequences of denying women independence. In Wiley’s new portraits, each woman is positioned as autonomous, as powerful, as open to individual interpretation and as an emblem of strength within a society of complicated social networks. They wholly embody myriad positions with regard to social class, status, religion, colonialism and the negotiation of gender.
For over fifteen years Wiley has sourced William Morris’s iconic floral designs for his paintings. Building on his interest in the relationship between the human body and the decorative, Wiley’s models are depicted in reimagined fields inspired by the William Morris oeuvre. Wiley’s portraits offer a rubric through which to engage with the beautiful yet fraught histories and traditions that black women — and all women — are heir to.