A massive bronze sculpture of a young black man in a hoodie astride a horse was permanently installed Tuesday in Virginia’s capital city, not far from one of the country’s most prominent displays of Confederate monuments.
At least 1,000 people crowded the lawn of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as “Rumors of War" was unveiled in its new home. The piece, the first public sculpture by prominent artist Kehinde Wiley and Wiley's largest work to date, was previously on display in Times Square.
"Rumors of War” is Wiley’s response to the Confederate monuments that pepper the United States and the South in particular.
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“This is a story about America 2.0,” he said Tuesday.
Wiley is well known for his regal portraits of black Americans, including one of former President Barack Obama that’s displayed at the National Portrait Gallery. He said he was inspired to create “Rumors of War” after seeing a massive equestrian monument honoring Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart during a visit to Richmond in 2016.
The Stuart monument is one of five giant Confederate statues that dot Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district.
Both the Stuart statue and “Rumors of War” feature regal, muscular horses in virtually the same pose, with one front leg lifted. Both riders are turned to the side, though instead of Civil War-era garb, Wiley’s is dressed in streetwear: a hoodie, ripped jeans and sneakers, with dreadlocks gathered atop his head.
Mounted on a large stone pedestal, Wiley's sculpture is just blocks away from Monument Avenue. It is prominently displayed along the city’s historic Arthur Ashe Boulevard, a thoroughfare renamed in honor of the black tennis great earlier this year. It sits next to the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Tuesday’s installation came amid an ongoing debate in Richmond about what do with its Confederate monuments and how its history as the capital of the Confederacy and an epicenter of the international slave trade should be told.
A commission formed by Mayor Levar Stoney in 2017 issued nonbinding recommendations that called for removing a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, leaving the rest and adding historical context. That commission's work has been rolled into a second one.
Some Virginia cities have been hamstrung in their attempts to remove or relocate Confederate monuments because of a state law that protects memorials to war veterans. That issue could get another look in January when the state legislature convenes, controlled by Democrats for the first time in a generation.
The issue has largely split along party lines, and at least one Democratic delegate has pledged to introduce legislation that would give localities control over what to do with their monuments.
“Rumors of War” was purchased with funds from private donors, the museum has said.