Last summer Nigerian-American artstar Kehinde Wiley (who you may remember from the Puma Africa campaign) traveled to Israel to photograph a cross section of young men from the region including a focus on Ethiopian Jews, who call themselves “Beta Israel.” The photographs were then used as the basis for his extraordinary paintings now on view from April 9th till May 28th at the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in LA.

Photographer/filmmaker Dwayne R. Rodgers accompanied Kehinde on his trip, creating a poignant inside view of the work which includes talented young rappers, party-goers, and street scenes from Jerusalem, Lod, and Tel Aviv.

“For me the film is about the way in which Kehinde is not just a painter, but there’s a performance element to his work as well. This piece captures that facet of his work ,” Dwayne told Okayafrica, “there’s a moment when the art segues into the performance aspect which then segues into Kehinde’s reality. The paintings are the product of someone being alive. It’s not an abstract process – there’s a lot of social engagement.”


  • umiNdada

    Love Kehinde Wiley and LOOOOOOOVE the art of Dwayne Rodgers! cant wait to see more

  • Anonymous

    Very cool portrait of an artist. Digging it.

  • wack

    To see black ppl in Israel… Not criticizing the country and it’s apartheid practice of separation, is too sad for words… S%it is really wack…

  • sad but true

    word there’s a reason why gil scott heron, the pixies, klaxxon, bjork, gorillaz, elvis costello, arundhati roy, massive attack and more are boycotting israel… israel’s treatment toward palestinians are no different from how the usa treated native americans…

  • gingerlynn

    @wack and @sad but true – I don’t disagree about Israel’s politics, but there are (of course) still some amazingly creative, interesting people living there. Should we not shine a light on their art? On their struggles, and achievements?

  • Dwayne Rodgers

    @Wack and @SadbutTrue Life at street level tends to be more complicated than the broad strokes of news sound bites. The reality is that the Ethiopian Jews in Israel are themselves oppressed, which I think was made clear in the video. As for their views about the treatment of the Palestinians that is not directly addressed in the video because that isn’t the subject matter of the video. The were addressing their own position in Israeli society. And as for their critical but hopeful view of Israel, many oppressed people around the world are complicit with the oppression of others –particularly when they stand to benefit or imagine they stand to benefit from that oppression. A case in point would be black and brown people in the U.S. military. I can’t say what their opinion of the oppresion of Palestinians is. If I know anything about the complexity of people and opinions, I imagine their feelings about the Palestinian situation run the gamut of responses. –Dwayne Rodgers (The Director).

  • sad but true

    @gingerlynn – “Should we not shine a light on their art?” On their struggles, and achievements?” I personally don’t think you should, because it normalizes the situation in Israel. I’m not trying to be reductive, and it’s unfortunate that any kind of dialogue on Israel gets filtered through this prism… However, they (Israel) have apartheid policies in place, and I equate Israel to the situation of South Africa in the 80’s. Were there amazing artist’s living there at that time? Of course there were, (although most were actively using their voice in opposition to the apartheid policies). Would it be responsible to go and visit them, and shed a light on their art and struggles — largely ignoring the political context with which they live in? Yes, because to do so, one has to ignore the gross human rights abuses that Israel is known for (like South Africa).

  • sad but true

    @Dwayne Rodgers – “Life at street level tends to be more complicated than the broad strokes of news sound bites.” I agree with you, but the nuances of day to day life inside the West bank and Gaza strip is something that is rarely (if ever) covered in journalism.

    Ethiopian Jews are themselves oppressed within Israel, but the bigger question is why would an oppressed group of people take advantage of a “law” that gives one the right to live somewhere (simply because of their religious identity), thereby displacing another group of people? That would have been a much more interesting question posed to these Ethiopian Jews, who as you said “are complicit with the oppression of others –particularly when they stand to benefit or imagine they stand to benefit from that oppression.” These people profiled are profiting from a draconian law that gives someone a right to live somewhere else — simply because of their religious identity. In short, we don’t know what their opinions of the oppression of Palestinians are, and how that is directly related to their lives in Israel — and because of that, it becomes just another piece of fluff journalism that ends up normalizing the extreme human rights abuses and apartheid laws and practices that exist in Israel.

    • Dwayne Rodgers

      @sad but true
      The film isn’t meant to be journalism in the sense of being an exposé of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The film documents one artist’s experience in Israel at work on a particular project. I think your response to the Ethiopian question is valid on many levels. Opening up that question is precisely what makes K. Wiley’s project interesting. Neither he nor are are journalists; we’re artists and as such allow ourselves to approach issues in a way that is suggestive and obliquely evocative. I think its very interesting that you have focused your ire so directly toward the Ethiopians though. “White” Jews appear in the piece and you don’t demand that they address the Palestinian issue, which is strange since they benefit most from Palestinian displacement –being at the top of Israel’s “food chain” as it were. I appreciate your stridency on the issue, but what you’re saying is akin to saying that all images made in the U.S. should directly address Native American genocide, slavery and the virtual apartheid state under which many African Americans presently live.

      A question for you: Are you fully versed on how and why the Beta Israel made their way to Israel? Knowing the breadth of their story complicates your accusations considerably. Would you choose death?

  • jerusalemfalafel

    why is no one actually saying that this is about a boycott?
    it would seem that is the discursive elephant on the page…
    sadbuttrue and wack seem to be staunchly advocating cultural boycott of israel for the occupation, without saying that…. why do you both not just advocate for a cultural boycott and articulate possibilities for community building that resists the very social constructs of the occupation? black folks in israel and in palestine don’t hold rank in the social power system; this could easily provide grounds for coalition building… but of course then we would actually need to be articulating what boycott/solidarity work in palestine/israel look like… it surely doesn’t mean not doing any work in the area at all… that seems frightfully more dangerous…

  • jerusalemfalafel

    PS Dwayne: Personally, I think there is no way to engage any community in Israel/Palestine and ignore the occupation… it would simply mean you did not address the community; one can not ignore the frame that people are subject to and expect to render much… Ethiopian Jews don’t just have “views” about the Palestinians… they are living on former Palestinian land and serving in the Israeli army… for now, they are occupiers as well…
    a short trip into occupied territory would’ve revealed that much… and perhaps, even given kehinde wiley added poignancy to his very necessary profiles…

  • sad but true

    @Dwayne Rodgers I do appreciate the dialogue that your film has opened up, but it’s a conversation based on what I feel is an omission on your part. I realize that your film isn’t an exposé of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and maybe that’s part of the problem… People seem to view “it” as a monolithic “issue”, “problem”, “question”, “conflict”, etc… When there’s actual people who have to live day to day with this shit… Occupation is just a word. It doesn’t really mean anything. In general, I’m a bit uncomfortable writing because your response is filled with hints of irreverence and snark, and by responding I take on some of the tenor of your position. Your comparison of the Native American genocide is one that happened hundreds of years ago, whereas the current policy of separation and apartheid that exists towards the Palestinian people in the west bank and Gaza strip — is happening now, as I write this to you. I agree that African Americans presently live in a virtual apartheid state, but Palestinians are required to carry ID cards showing where they live, marking themselves as Palestinian and restricting their movements, and West Bank Palestinians are required to drive on separate roads, and are not allowed to leave the west bank. In general, your response speaks to (or for) the people who don’t truly believe that Israel practices apartheid, and not virtual apartheid, or theoretical apartheid — but apartheid as brutal governmental policy.

    In my response I was focusing on the Ethiopian Jews because when I see people of color who don’t have a sense of commonality/connection with other people who have been victimized or displaced, it’s troubling… and I question — why? I sincerely hope and wish that the kids featured in your piece live fruitful and happy lives in Israel, as my critique wasn’t an attack on them. Or of it was, that wasn’t my intention. I just hope that when filmmakers such as yourself cover stories in Israel, you don’t omit what is arguably the most extreme form of oppression that exists on the planet, and/or at least try to find a way to weave that into your narrative.

    • Dwayne Rodgers

      No snark intended at all. (I might just be an ass by nature.) And to the extent that the occupation of Palestine is being spoken about by us right now in this forum, it has been woven into the film’s narrative. Dialogue and dialectic. The film and Kehinde Wiley’s work is doing its job. And by the way I’m fully aware of the extent of the occupation. I’m by no means an occupation denier. I am, however, someone who made a film about another artist’s experience of a contentious place whose citizens are in a constant mode of self censorship. Out of of respect for the subjects of the film, I’ll let you read in between those lines of the previous sentence.

      As for whether Palestine’s occupation/oppression is the most brutal on the planet I’ll leave that alone because that ventures into what I call the Oppression Olympics. (Note: Please look very askew at Sudan and Mauritania to name just two places.)

      On the subject of Native American genocide and African enslavement I quote William Faulkner: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” (And by the way Native American and African American disenfranchisement continue as we speak.) Also if you live in the “First World” and participate in maintaining the status quo, you’re complicit (as am I) in a global apartheid . A sad but true reality. Yes, it’s complicated.

  • gingerlynn

    @sadbuttrue I think you’ve raised some interesting issues here. Would you consider crafting a formal response to this work as our first “Letter To The Editor” series? If so hit me on email, Peace.

  • Anonymous


  • David

    “It’s an honor for you to have us here.” Slip of the tongue Kenhinde

    • David

      uh, I mean Kehinde. Guess we all speak stupid sometimes

  • Jacob

    Those who produced and hosted this episode had the ethical responsibility to address the dispossession, racism, degradation and ethnic cleansing being experienced by Palestinians. It is not about calling out Ethiopian migrants to Israel on this issue. It is about recognizing the context you, the producer of this media, are intervening in. If you skip aside the genocide that structures this context, you are perpetuating the silencing of the oppressed. This is not excusable. If you want to cover hip-hop in Israel why do you ignore Palestinian rappers like DAM and the many other groups on the scene? This is very disappointing. Ridiculous and shameful, actually.

  • Me

    If you’re in New York, he’s speaking with Nigeria’s own Lola Ogunnaike about this collection at the Jewish Museum of New York. The talk begins at 6:30pm.

  • Akilah Walker

    This is dope. I wonder why Kehinde Wiley focuses so much on the emasculation of men in his work. Just something to think about.

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