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It was consensual; Top U.S painter denies Okuntakinte's sexual assault claims

In a shocking revelation, prominent Ghanaian artist Joseph Awuah-Darko has accused celebrated Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley of sexual assault.

It was consensual; Top U.S painter denies Okuntakinte's sexual assault claims

The allegations, made in a post on May 19 2024, detail incidents that reportedly occurred on June 9, 2021, during a dinner organized by the Ghana Creative Art Council at the Noldor Artist Residency, founded by Awuah-Darko in 2020.

Joseph Awuah-Darko's May 9th Instagram post provides a detailed account of the events. He claims that during the dinner, Kehinde Wiley assaulted him twice.

He stated, "On the 9th of June 2021, I was sexually assaulted [twice] by Kehinde Wiley. I first met the American artist of Nigerian descent at a dinner held in his honour by Ghana's Creative Art Council at the Noldor Artist Residency. The chosen venue was my place of work and an institution I founded in 2020. And as such, I was to be present and invited in a professional capacity amongst other figures - all of whom play a major role within and beyond Ghana's artistic and creative ecosystem."

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Awuah-Darko, also known as Okuntakinte, recounted the first assault in detail, alleging that Wiley groped his buttocks while he was accompanying Wiley and another guest to the bathroom.

"In the first assault, I was inappropriately groped by Kehinde Wiley who proceeded to grab my buttocks with his hand before then saying something along the lines of "what is this thing?". This happened in front of another dinner guest, while I was politely ushering them both up flights of stairs to use the bathroom during said dinner. The act was categorically unwelcome and unprovoked - Wiley had barely known me for more than 2 hours by this point and I was wearing a modest dark green kaftan. I was stunned and concerned for two reasons: [A] this unsolicited act had occurred in Ghana at my place of work, and [B) it was done by a critically celebrated artist who knew the power he wielded and seemed clearly prepared to abuse it. Nevertheless, I placated the situation with awkward humour and the dinner subsequently continued," the Ghanaian artiste claimed.

The second assault, according to Awuah-Darko, happened later that same evening. He has not yet provided further details on this incident but indicated that it occurred at the same event.

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In response to these serious allegations, Kehinde Wiley has categorically denied any wrongdoing. In his own Instagram post, Wiley acknowledged knowing Awuah-Darko but asserted that their relationship was brief and consensual, denying any allegations of assault.

He stated, "Someone I had a brief, consensual relationship with almost three years ago is now making a false accusation about our time together. These claims are not true and are an affront to all victims of sexual abuse."

"I have no idea why he has decided to target me in this way – particularly when there is a litany of evidence showing his claims are false – but I hope he gets the help he needs for whatever he is going through. I kindly ask for privacy as I work to clear my name," he concluded.

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The accusation is a significant shock to the art community, given Wiley's global recognition and celebrated career.

Kehinde Wiley is a prominent contemporary American artist known for his vivid, large-scale portraits of Black individuals depicted in the style of Old Master paintings. Born in 1977 in Los Angeles, Wiley's art reimagines classical portraiture, positioning Black subjects in powerful and dignified roles traditionally reserved for European aristocracy. His work disrupts conventional narratives, celebrating Black identity and culture with a striking visual impact.

Among Wiley's most notable works are "Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps" (2005), a reimagining of Jacques-Louis David's classic painting with a young Black man in contemporary streetwear, and "The Two Sisters" (2012), which portrays two young Black women in modern attire against a backdrop of intricate floral patterns.

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Wiley also gained widespread acclaim for his 2018 portrait of President Barack Obama, commissioned by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, featuring Obama seated against a lush, leafy backdrop that symbolizes his roots and heritage.

The allegation by Okuntakinke has since sparked widespread discussion and calls for a thorough investigation to uncover the truth behind these serious allegations.

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