Kehinde Wiley brings ‘Rumors of War’ to permanent home at VMFA

Artist Kehinde Wiley visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday for the unveiling of his newest piece, "Rumors of War." Photo by Jon Mirador

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor 

Lovers of history and art came together on Tuesday for the unveiling of “Rumors of War,” the newest artistic endeavor from New York artist Kehinde Wiley at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The 27-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts a young African American man riding an active horse, dressed in ripped jeans, dreadlocks and Nike basketball shoes. 

“It’s a positive moment as we think about the inspiration that art brings to the world,” says CEO of the VMFA, Alex Nyerges. “Where art can change our lives and where art can make the world as we know it better today and for tomorrow. And no one has been able to do it as well as what you will see here today when we unveil ‘Rumors of War.’”

The artist, who also painted President Obama’s presidential portrait, said he knew the sculpture’s permanent home would be in Richmond when he created the piece.

“We all have to do a big bow and a thank you to whatever powers brought us here today because there is something moving in the culture and there is something changing in these winds,” Wiley said.

Wiley also mentioned that the sculpture was made in response to the several Confederate monuments in Virginia, especially in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. 

“For lovers of art to admire, for lovers of history to learn, and for lovers of inclusivity, diversity and equity. Or simply put — this is for you.” — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

“I want this picture to be not about an individual but rather about black men and their place in this society and, in a much broader way, a society that can say yes to black men and their place in this society,” Wiley said. “It’s not about black men, it’s about all of us.”

Among the many speakers at the event were Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Today, we give thanks that Kehinde Wiley came to Richmond,” Northam said. “We give thanks that this city inspired him, we give thanks that he saw beyond Richmond’s relics, and we give thanks for the vision of a man who sees the power of art to teach and to inspire.” 

The sculpture was initially unveiled in Times Square in September and was moved to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as its permanent home.

“As I said in New York in Times Square, my brother, you are our righteous warrior,” Stoney said to Wiley. “It is your passion, your talent and your inspiration that blesses us with ‘Rumors of War,’ which will help us define our direction in the right place at the right time.”

Northam said the sculpture welcomes progressiveness and inclusivity to Virginia, and he noted the cultural and historical significance of unveiling the sculpture on the recently renamed Arthur Ashe Boulevard. 

“People in Richmond will recognize its [the sculpture] shape and its form, but it depicts a person who looks different from every other statue in this city — there are a lot of them,” Northam said.

When the tarp on the statue was signaled to be unveiled to the public, there was trouble getting it off of the hair of the statue.

After about an hour of speculation and different individuals trying to get the tarp off, the Richmond Fire Department was able to cut off the material and reveal the entirety of the sculpture. 

“This confident warrior, with his dreads, his ripped jeans and his Nikes, has literally given us something to look up to,” Stoney said. 

He also said the importance and beauty of the monument is not just for Richmonders, but for everyone. 

“For lovers of art to admire, for lovers of history to learn, and for lovers of inclusivity, diversity and equity,” Stoney said. “Or simply put — this is for you.”

“Rumors of War” will reside permanently at the VMFA, 200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. 

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