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Muse who inspired ‘Rumors of War’ speaks to Richmond students

Posted at 12:33 PM, Dec 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-10 12:41:27-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hours before the unveiling of a historic monument at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the muse that inspired the artwork, made a stop at Binford Middle School.

Najee Wilson spoke about his work as a muse, and how he became the face of the ‘Rumors of War’ monument.

Wilson, originally from South Carolina, said he moved to Brooklyn, New York and worked on his skills as a muse before sending Kehinde Wiley a message on Instagram in 2017.

“My message was simply, ‘hi Kehinde, my name is Najee Wilson and I’m a Fine Arts muse with much experience. I’d love to work with you someday,’” said Wilson. “And he said ‘yes, what’s your email?’”

Najee Wilson

From there, the same artist who painted President Barack Obama in 2018, sculpted Najee Wilson to create ‘Rumors of War.’

“Being a black man from South Carolina — being the figure that’s on the horse — it’s deeply moving and it’s deeply profound,” said Wilson.

The statue is a response to the Confederate statues lining monument avenue. It shows an African American man modeled after the statue of J.E.B. Stuart.

“Rumors of war directly speaks to the Confederacy and speaks to the history of Richmond, and I appreciate that,” said Wilson. “It’s okay that a temporary idea can approach an archaic idea and when those two things come together, change comes.”

Melissa Rickey - Principal at Binford Middle School - said she wants her students to start having those conversations.

“For quite a long time we can see art has been mostly lots of white guys,” said Rickey. “So it’s really important for us to start having these conversations about who is seen, who is creating that art. Who is in charge of putting that art in public spaces and galleries?”

“The way that artist looks describes the way some of our students look,” Rickey added.

Najee Wilson

Wilson said although his face is on the statue, it represents more than that.

“For so many people across American, their stories are untold,” said Wilson. "Their stories are unrecognized, and so this monument is a moment for them.”