Kehinde Wiley, Rumors of War

Kehinde Wiley, Rumors of War, 2019, patinated bronze with stone pedestal, overall: 27’4 7/8” x 25’5 7/8” x 15’9” 5/8” (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) © Kehinde Wiley; a conversation with Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Beth Harris

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Rumors of War

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Key points

  • Kehinde Wiley created this equestrian sculpture in direct response to the Confederate memorials situated along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. He specifically repeated the pose and composition of the J.E.B. Stuart memorial, also an equestrian sculpture, replacing the uniformed Confederate general with the figure of a young Black man in contemporary clothing. 
  • This is not Wiley’s first artwork featuring a Black male rider on horseback. Beginning in 2005, Wiley produced a series of paintings of this subject, also called Rumors of War. Like the bronze sculpture in Richmond, the large-scale canvases in the series recreate historic equestrian portraits of powerful leaders, supplanting the main figures with young African American men as a means of reclaiming Black representation and offering a vision of hope and empowerment. The title, Rumors of War, refers to a biblical passage from the New Testament book of Matthew, which speaks to the promise of rebirth for the downtrodden in the face of oppression.
  • Reflecting on his own emotional reaction to Richmond’s Confederate monuments, as a Black man, Wiley intended for his sculpture to serve as a counter-narrative to the white supremacist ideals perpetuated by the city’s monuments, which had been in place since the decades following the U.S. Civil War (all, however, were removed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, less than a year after Rumors of War was installed in Richmond).

Go deeper

Learn more about this sculpture at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Learn more about this sculpture and its brief, initial display in Times Square before being installed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Kehinde Wiley’s studio.

Learn more about the Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue and specifically about the first memorial to be erected in 1890, to General Robert E. Lee.

Read more about the legacy of Confederate art and how it continues to affect understanding of the U.S. Civil War today.

Read more about Kehinde Wiley and the role of copying in his work.

More to think about

Nine smaller scale versions of Wiley’s sculpture were made after he completed the original for Richmond in 2019. (Read about one of the smaller versions that is on long-term loan to a non-for-profit serving predominantly Black individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Saint Louis, Missouri). Although Wiley made the original sculpture in direct response to the Confederate monuments in Richmond, Virginia, the placement of the copies of the sculpture in other locations can also have a powerful impact on local audiences who may not immediately associate it with a response to the white supremacist legacy of United States Confederacy. Where else can you envision versions of Rumors of War? Why did you select that location and how might the meaning and resonance of the sculpture expand for audiences in that place? 

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.