Artist Kehinde Wiley Accused of Sexual Assault

Editor’s Note: The following story contains mentions of sexual assault and harassment. To reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit

The American painter Kehinde Wiley, best known for his 2018 portrait of President Barack Obama, has been accused of sexual assault. In a statement published on Instagram yesterday, May 19, Ghanaian artist Joseph Awuah-Darko alleged that Wiley assaulted him twice during an event in Ghana in 2021.

According to Awuah-Darko, he first met Wiley on June 9, 2021 at a dinner held in his honor by Ghana’s Creative Art Council at the Noldor Artist Residency, a program Awuah-Darko founded in the capital city of Accra. In his statement, he claimed Wiley grabbed his buttocks in the presence of other dinner guests.

“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,” Awuah-Darko wrote.

Awuah-Darko did not provide details of the second alleged assault, but described it in his statement as “much more severe and violent.”

In a statement to Hyperallergic via the public relations firm Marathon Strategies, Wiley denied the allegations, saying, “Someone I had a brief, consensual relationship with is now making false, disturbing, and defamatory accusations about our time together.”

“These claims are deeply hurtful to me, and I will pursue all legal options to bring the truth to light and clear my name,” Wiley added. “These accusations are also a slap in the face to all victims of sexual abuse.”

The artist continued: “I have no idea why this individual has decided to target me, especially since he has been trying to be part of my life ever since we met. He flew to Nigeria to attend my birthday party, attempted to visit my home in upstate New York, sent me warm and cordial text messages, and attended my exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco almost a year ago, posting on Instagram that the show by his ‘dear friend’ was ‘breathtaking.’” Marathon Strategies provided screenshots of the text exchanges.

Awuah-Darko said in his post that he did not immediately confront the incident and that it took him “several months” to come to terms with his experience.

“I have gaslighted myself, consumed with shame, and even tried to harm myself,” he stated, adding that formally reporting an incident of sexual assault by a gay man in West Africa, where many LGBTQ+ people face persecution and intolerance, was potentially dangerous.

Awuah-Darko compared coming forward with his accusation in a written statement to the act of self-immolation, or setting oneself on fire.

“Today my protest is against sexual assault and abuse of power in all its forms,” the artist wrote in his statement. “And in the dire hope that my flames shine a light on more truth to come.”

Awuah-Darko has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

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