The far-right internet spent yesterday hurling faux outrage at Kehinde Wiley, the artist who painted Barack Obama’s presidential portrait, with one internet personality going so far as to smear Wiley as a “white genocide fetish artist.”
Wiley is known for depicting modern-day African-American subjects using the tropes of classical European art. As Media Matters and Upworthy’s Parker Molloy first noted yesterday, the far-right has latched on to a pair of Wiley’s paintings in which he depicts the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes—a frequent subject in Renaissance art—as a black woman holding the head of a white man or a white woman.
These paintings were enough to revive the longstanding right-wing meme that Obama is racist against white people and to make Wiley the latest object of the far-right internet’s smear machine.
The Gateway Pundit’s White House reporter Lucian Wintrich claimed that it was hard to interpret Wiley’s prior paintings as “anything other than a blatant statement of racism.” From Wintrich’s article:
Typical artists from the Rennaissance era have placed Judith in the role of a scriptural savior, “a type of the praying Virgin or the church or as a figure who tramples Satan and harrows Hell.” Given the historical context and how Wiley recreated it in his works, is hard to interpret his use of this theme as anything other than a blatant statement of racism; black women are the powerful angels of the earth, conquering the white devils.
The conspiracy theory outlet Infowars reported that Wiley’s work “just marks the latest in every form of leftist art being supercharged with racial hatred”:
WorldNetDaily led its story about Wiley with the observation that Obama “apparently enjoys painting portraits of black women holding the severed heads of white people.” Independent Journal Review’s Virginia Kruta egged on the faux outrage, even embedding a tweet from a white supremacist alt-right troll in her article.
Former Infowars reporter turned independent conspiracy theorist Joe Biggs also encouraged the right-wing outrage about Wiley:
— Joe Biggs (@Rambobiggs) February 12, 2018
Right-wing cartoonist Ben Garrison remarked that the paintings were “sick”:
— BenGarrison Cartoons (@GrrrGraphics) February 12, 2018
Far-right YouTube pundit Stefan Molyneux claimed that Obama “has chosen a white genocide fetish artist to paint his Presidential portrait” and that should be a “wake up call”:
The former President of the United States has chosen a white genocide fetish artist to paint his Presidential portrait. If that isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is… https://t.co/bt8bSrAm5r
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) February 12, 2018