Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Ship of Fools’ Goes on display at The Box, Plymouth
From 29 September 2020 – 24 January 2021, Kehinde Wiley’s Ship of Fools will be on display at The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth. The presentation is curated by The Box in partnership with The Arts Institute, University of Plymouth and Royal Museums Greenwich.
In 2017, Wiley made his first-ever video installation, expanding his practice from painting to film and experimenting with visual poetry. The three-channel digital film projection is titled Narrenschiff (German for ‘Ship of Fools’) and is a direct reference to a 15th-century book of the same title by the German theologian Sebastian Brant. This book satirized politicians, clerics and other well-known or influential people and was a huge success of the time, narrating the story of a crew of fools lost at sea.
The Ship of Fools is not, however, an imaginary story. In the middle-ages, in Western Europe, as much as 30% of the population were made to set sail and forced into sanatoriums, labelled as outsiders. The idea of marginalising those who do not conform to societal norms is what Kehinde Wiley wants us to reflect upon through his work.
When confronted with large bodies of water, a duality is often experienced: we are attracted to but also frightened by the unknown. This resonates with Plymouth and its rich history of voyages like that of the Mayflower.
Wiley’s film is a portrait of a group of black men at sea, struggling to reach the land – a metaphor for both historical and contemporary histories of migration. It features an original score by composer Maxim Budnick and is narrated by acclaimed actress CCH Pounder.
The film joined The Box’s collections in 2018 thanks to the Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund at Frieze. “For its first museum presentation, we’re delighted to accompany it with a copy of The Ship of Fools by Brant. Published in 1498, the book is part of our historically important Cottonian Collection.”
A large oil painting by Wiley, also titled Ship of Fools, will be on display too. The work is from the collections of Royal Museums Greenwich and was acquired with Art Fund support. It depicts a group of four migrants in a rickety boat with a tree trunk growing where the mast should be.
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