Ship of Fools

An oil painting, in portrait format, that depicts four figures in a leaking boat with a tree seemingly growing out of the centre. The boat is at sea with waves lapping at the sides. There is a small ghostly ship in the background right of the painting.

Painted for inclusion in Kehinde Wiley’s recent exhibition, 'In Search of the Miraculous', at the Steven Friedman Gallery in London, Ship of Fools was completed in 2017 as part of a new body of work by the artist that reflects on the genre of marine painting. The paintings in this series depict migrants from island nations who are desperately seeking better lives. As is the case with most of Wiley’s paintings, the paintings take the settings of old master paintings and insert figures from marginalised communities into the postures of the sitters in these paintings. Ship of Fools draws upon the iconography of Hieronymus Bosch’s Ship of Fools in the collection of the Louvre, a highly influential panel painted at the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th that critiques the misbehaviour of contemporary clergy. The migrants in Wiley’s Ship of Fools are, unlike Bosch’s clergy, not depicted as fools; instead, the painting poses the question of whether their quest for a better life is foolish in the context of a world that typically ignores their desperation. The painting includes in the background the ghostly spectre of an 18th-century warship as a pointed reference to the histories of colonialism and slavery that often shape contemporary migration patterns. While other paintings from this group of works are portraits of specific migrants, the figures in Ship of Fools are composites, stand-ins for the thousands and millions of people currently in search of better lives.

Object Details

ID: ZBA8636
Type: Oil Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Wiley, Kehinde
Date made: 2017; Kehinde Wiley
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund, the American Friends of Royal Museums Greenwich and the Keith McBride bequest.
Measurements: Frame: 2724 mm x 2225 mm x 50 kg; Painting: 2440 mm x 1938 mm

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