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Blog: Community Marks Unveiling Of "Rumors Of War" At VMFA

Kehinde Wiley Statue Rumors of War
More than a thousand gathered outside of the VMFA for the unveiling of "Rumors of War" Tuesday. Photo by Louise Keeton

Virginians will finally be able to see "Rumors of War," a statue by artist Kehinde Wiley, unveiled at its new home in Richmond Tuesday. The 27-foot high, bronze statue was installed outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts along Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

It depicts a young African American person with dreadlocks, a hoodie and ripped jeans, riding on top of a horse. It’s a response to the statue of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, which is down the street on Monument Ave. The work was originally showcased in New York City earlier this year.

Some in the area look at this piece of art as a step forward for Richmond, following community conversations about the message of Confederate Monuments. Others find it controversial and could potentially divide the community further. The work will be unveiled Tuesday at the VMFA.

The ceremony starts at 3:30 PM. Speakers include Wiley, Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

Continue to follow VPM News for more updates during the event. 

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (5:20 PM)

Multiple people tried to remove the cloth. After being stuck for almost an hour, a Richmond firefighter was able to get it off. The crowd of more than a thousand went wild as the sculpture was finally unveiled. 

"The young fella who was trying looked like he was so close and just needed a little extra help. And that's all we did - give him a little extra help," firefighter John Lukhard said. "Everyday we don't know what we're going to get into and here we are - waiting to see if they need us for EMS purposes. We get to do something a little extra which is nice."

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (5:06 PM)

A large crowd is still waiting for the artwork to be unveiled, despite getting stuck on the top of the sculpture. 

When VMFA's director Director Alex Nyerges announced that the fabric got caught in the statue’s hair, an African American woman in the crowd laughed and cheered. 


Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (4:48 PM)

Taking the podium, artist Kehinde Wiley told the crowd, while men sit on top of most of monuments -- including his sculpture -- he does not want this to be a “boy’s story.” 

“I want all of our young women to feel just as engendered to the power that this sculpture represents as well. I think that what this thing represents is not just a story about race or gender or a story about openness, it’ a story about America 2.0," Kehinde said.

When crews went to unveil the statue, the cloth got stuck at the top for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (4:03 PM)

Governor Ralph Northam takes the podium under the sculpture and thanked Kehinde Wiley for being inspired by Richmond to make this piece of art. Northam said the work "welcomes progress and inclusion" to Virginia.

“This sculpture is the most important work of art in this museum. And thanks to all of you it will grace this state forever," Northam added. 

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (3:35PM)

Despite the rain, more than a thousand people are gathering outside of the VMFA. 

Born and raised in Richmond, Natasha Freedman says this sculpture shows the community “has to keep moving forward.” 

“It feels like we’re releasing the old norms... and the old patterns that our ancestors have manifested,” Freedman explained. “It feels great to be in a place of being present and viewing history.”

Kyomi Takahashi, Scott Takahashi, and Brian Albright came to see the statue unveiled as well. Scott Takahashi described the work is "all inclusive."  

“I think it’s overdue, I think it’s clever and challenging," Scott Takahashi added. "I think it’s something that’s going to generate interesting constructive discussions for quite a long time.”

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (2:50 PM)

The Richmond Public Schools All City Marching Band is preparing for their performance at the ceremony to unveil the sculpture “Rumors of War.” 

One of the band organizers, Christie Joe-Adams, says this is a “momentous occasion” for “students to be part of.”

“When you look at our band, you can see that we are a diverse band and that we are a group of people that are a part of Richmond,” Joe-Adams explained. This starts those good conversations about what our boys and girls are going to be able to do in the coming years.”

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 (1:50PM)

Dozens of people are waiting to attend the unveiling ceremony inside the VMFA. It's packed in the museum's cafe. Outside final preparations are underway before the event begins at 3:30 p.m. today.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

VMFA is anticipating a large crowd today for the official unveiling of “Rumors of War,” the three-story sculpture depicting a Black youth in ripped jeans and a hoodie riding a horse. Styled after the statue of Confederate General J.E.B Stuart on Monument Avenue, VMFA Director Alex Nyerges says the positive responses have overwhelmingly outnumbered criticisms and he hopes the work will spark more conversation in Richmond.

“2019 is the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans to come to English North America, to the Virginia colony,” said Nyerges. “So this becomes a restatement of not just the past, but really about the future. So as Kehinde says, you know, this, this brings into question, “For whom do we make monuments? And who do we put up on top of pedestals?”

VMFA’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Valerie Cassel Oliver has watched artist Kehinde Wiley evolve over his career. This is his first large scale sculpture.

“It is monumental,” said Cassel Oliver. “And not just a figure of speech, it is truly monumental, in terms of its ability to be a seismic shift in how we perceive and how we understand ourselves as people living here.”

Asked what she hopes people in 50 or 100 years know about this moment in Richmond, Cassel Oliver said: “We're making new histories and we weren't afraid to make new histories.”

Monday, December 9, 2019

The model for Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” came to Richmond to participate in community panel discussions and speak with public school students. At City Council Monday night, Councilmember Kim Gray recognized Najee Wilson for his role in this new work of public art. In a letter read at Council, Gray expressed “profound gratitude” for Wilson’s willingness to share his story.

“Richmond has made significant strides to overcome the burdens and shackles of its past. As you so astutely noted, a work of art like this one has the ability to effectuate change that people can eventually see,” wrote Gray.

An emotional Wilson approached Council and said he’s learned that many Richmonders are a lot like him.

“I’ve learned that the place I’m from Charleston, SC is plagued with some of the same issues that Richmond is plagued with. But I understand that through expression of creativity, we can change the world in which we live,” said Wilson.

In an interview with VPM, Wilson said the image of young African American on the 27-foot-tall sculpture is a composite for six different people.

“I represent that, I am embodying that, but it is also extremely heartfelt in that it includes everyone,” said Wilson. “America is an inclusive place so we have to build a history that shows how inclusive it is and I think the work that Kehinde sent forth with Rumors of War really does that, but it also is extremely poetic in the way that is includes me, a man from South Carolina who moved to the North but now gets to return to the South to bring back this message. It is extremely poignant and I am so glad to be a part of it.”

Saturday, December 7, 2019

“Rumors of War” was installed over the weekend outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Before it was covered with a large cloth, families stopped to see the piece of art.

Troilyn McKenzie says Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind the statue, is one of her favorites. She brought her daughter to the museum Saturday.

“I think it’s important for us to have some kind of representation for our culture in this area,” McKenzie said.

So did dad Gregg Brooks and his daughter, Georgia. He says with all the negativity around the confederate statues along Monument Avenue, Wiley’s installation shows progress for Richmond.

“I think it’s a great sign and it’s a great show of moving forward,” he added.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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