Fostering a new spirit
12/13/2019, 6 a.m.
We revel in the new energy and spirit that artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental sculpture, “Rumors of War,” ushers into Richmond.
The local unveiling this week of the 27-foot-tall statue outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts brings a welcome and contemporary update to the very visible public spaces that adorn our city.
No longer will the embarrassing tributes to racist traitors be the only grand statues to dot the cityscape. Mr. Wiley’s urban masterpiece featuring a young African-American man with dreadlocks, jeans and high-top sneakers regally on horseback makes a bold statement. Combined with the statues of banker Maggie L. Walker in Downtown and the humble Arthur Ashe Jr. statue tucked away on Monu- ment Avenue, “Rumors of War” brings more of a balance to public art that shows Richmond to be a diverse place embracing all cultures.
We congratulate the museum, director Alex Nyerges, curator Valerie Cassel Oliver and the museum board, led by Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr., for their forward and positive vision of the museum as a place to help lead Richmond away from the past and into the light.
Acquiring Mr. Wiley’s sculpture required a major financial commitment of more than $2 million, which Mr. Nyerges said came from private donors. We appreciate their generosity and actions to help transform Richmond into a more progressive city. “Rumors of War,” and the publicity it will generate, signals that transformation and sends a positive message not only to residents but also to those who are considering visiting, relocating or moving their businesses to Richmond.
When Mr. Wiley came to Richmond in 2016 as part of his major exhibition, “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” at VMFA, he was struck — like many visitors — by the massive equestrian tributes to an inglorious past of white supremacy lining Monument Avenue. Through his latest work, Mr. Wiley helps Richmonders understand that while the city may have served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, we don’t have to remain stuck with that narrative.
In short but powerful remarks to the thousands of people who turned out despite gloomy and rainy weather for the upbeat ceremony, Mr. Wiley explained that “Rumors of War,” is “a story about America 2.0” — the next generation. It’s a tribute not to any one individual, he told the crowd, but “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. It is about a society that includes all of us.”
There is no question that “Rumors of War” is a major boost for Richmond.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to help foster progress. We have seen that with Mr. Wiley and his work. The VMFA, with its richly diverse staff and board leadership, has made a positive end run around Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission that in July 2018 offered only spineless and ineffective recommendations for dealing with the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. The commission weakly recommended that only the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis be taken down and that signs adding historical context be placed with the rest.