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American portrait painter Kehinde Wiley heads packed programme of public arts for the University of Plymouth

An exhibition of work from one of the most acclaimed portrait painters in the world today is heading up the new programme of contemporary art and culture at The Arts Institute.

Kehinde Wiley, famous for his naturalistic portraits including that of President Barack Obama, will be featured in Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools, a four-month exhibition at the University of Plymouth’s The Levinsky Gallery. The exhibition is curated by The Box in partnership with The Arts Institute and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Among a host of other events scheduled for the season include an online exhibition on littering tied to an international scientific conference on microplastics, live-streamed musical evenings, and a festival that brings together writers, artists and researchers to reflect upon our rapidly changing world.

With the effects of the pandemic still being felt, in particular restrictions on gatherings, this will be the first season at The Arts Institute to cater for social distancing and virtual audiences, with some events especially designed to include online public participation.

Dr Sarah Chapman, Director of The Arts Institute, said:

“The world as we know it has been turned upside down by COVID-19, and that has had a profound impact on all areas of society. But what of art and ‘the arts?’ In times of change we invariably find ourselves looking to artists and writers to relocate ourselves and to make sense of difficult times. Art and culture can bring people together, connecting the individual with larger collective experiences. That theme runs through many of the events in this new programme from The Arts Institute and is also reflected in how we are utilising the internet to safely bring together our audiences.”

The new programme begins with Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools, which will be in The Levinsky Gallery from 29 September until 24 January 2021. The centrepiece is Wiley’s first video installation, a three-channel digital film projection titled Narrenschiff (German for ‘Ship of Fools’), which offers a portrait of a group of black men at sea, struggling to reach the land. It features an original score by composer Maxim Budnick and is narrated by acclaimed actress CCH Pounder.

This will be joined in the gallery by a historic copy of the eponymous 1498 book, written by German theologian Sebastian Brand, and an oil painting by Wiley depicting a group of four migrants in a rickety boat with a tree trunk growing where the mast should be.

“We are thrilled to have Kehinde Wiley’s art in The Levinsky Gallery, thanks to our collaboration with The Box and Royal Museums Greenwich,”

said Dr Chapman.

“His work is incredibly relevant to today, resonating with issues concerning social injustice, power structures and the current migrant crisis, while also asking questions about Plymouth’s own history, including the impact of voyages such as the Mayflower.”

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