November 30, 2023

A Congolese painter whose art reflects how globalization and consumption have changed African society. A Nigerian-American filmmaker whose work focuses on the cultures and experiences of Africans and the Diaspora. A Texas visual activist who forces viewers to face issues that are considered difficult to deal with.

These are among the 16 artists selected for the 2021 residency at Black Rock Senegal, the coastal studio in the West African capital of Dakar by Kehinde Wiley, the painter best known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama.

The artists, who will spend several weeks in the lavish studio on a bank lined with volcanic rocks, express themselves in various formats and come from all over the world. But many in this year’s group share Wiley’s passion for using art to explore social change.

His recent works include the stained glass fresco of break dancers at Moynihan Train Hall and his “Rumors of War” statue in Richmond, Virginia – a black man with ponytail dreadlocks on horseback in the style of memorials to Confederate war generals. Wiley is not part of the Black Rock selection committee, which looks at the class of artist as a whole and seeks to select a diverse group of residents, including personal identity and nationality and the medium in which they work.

Among the residents is Hilary Balu from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose latest colorful but sad series “Voyage vers Mars” examines the tragedy of contemporary migration – in this case the flight of a population to another continent, like astronauts who destroyed a Earth for another planet.

Abbesi Akhamie, who lives in Washington, is a Nigerian-American writer, director and producer whose most recent short film “The Couple Next Door” premiered at Aspen Shortsfest last year and won the Audience Choice Award at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film festival.

Irene Antonia Diane Reece from Houston uses her family archives as a form of activism and liberation. Some of her work deals with family history and racial identity.

Other residents include Delali Ayivor, a Ghanaian-American writer; Mbali Dhlamini, a multidisciplinary artist; and Arinze Ifeakandu, a Nigerian writer who recently completed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and writes about strange male intimacy. The residents will each spend several weeks in the studio, with the restrictions for coronaviruses applying in staggered phases from this month.

Some may overlap with Wiley, who spent much of the past year in Dakar using the global pandemic as an opportunity to pause and paint. Sometimes he works with Black Rock residents who have helped him with his work.

“I am learning to view, discuss, and criticize art that often depicts the black body from different perspectives around the world,” Wiley said in an email exchange. “There is an infinite variety of rubrics through which artists advance the possibilities of representation.”