Kehinde Wiley accused of sexual assault by fellow artist Joseph Awuah-Darko

Kehinde Wiley accused of sexual assault by fellow artist Joseph Awuah-Darko
Kehinde Wiley accused of sexual assault by fellow artist Joseph Awuah-Darko

Joseph Awuah-Darko, a British-born artist-curator and musician based in Ghana, has accused Kehinde Wiley of sexual assault. In an Instagram post posted Sunday, Awuah-Darko spoke publicly about the accusation for the first time, including that he is currently seeking “legal action.” Wiley, a fine artist best known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama, has denied all allegations in his own post on Instagram.

In the post, Awuah-Darko briefly recounts his experience of first meeting Wiley. On June 9, 2021, the two met at the Noldor Artist Residency at a dinner Ghana’s Creative Arts Council held in Wiley’s honor. It was that evening that Awuah-Darko claims he was sexually assaulted by Wiley twice.

The statement opens with this: “They say self-immolation is the practice of setting oneself on fire, normally as a protest, against something. That is exactly what writing this statement has felt like for me – but it had to be done. Today, my protest is against sexual assault and abuse of power in all its forms. And in the dire hope that my flames shine a light on more truth to come.”

The post continues, “On the 9th of June 2021, I was sexually assaulted [twice] by Kehinde Wiley.” In the post, Awuah-Darko goes on to claim that the first time, Wiley “inappropriately groped [Awuah-Darko] by grabbing his buttocks” in front of another guest. “The second assault was much more severe and violent,” is all he wrote regarding the other incident. Awuah-Darko also addressed why he hasn’t spoken about this before, writing in a comment on the post, “Note: the very FIRST TIME I finally stopped gaslighting myself and admitted to my best friend that I was abused was in October 2023!” He also gave insight into how things like culture and power impact situations like these.

“Let me now say that, much like some other documented victims [survivors] of sexual assault, I did not immediately confront the reality of my abuse as such,” Awuah-Darko wrote. “It would take me many several months to reconcile with what actually happened to me. Secondly, given Kehinde, self described global recognition as a gay man, formally reporting this assault in a West African country like Ghana [where anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments are prevalent] would have been problematic at best – dangerous at worst.”

Shortly after Awuah-Darko’s post, Wiley responded with his own, where he claims the relationship was “consensual” and says that Awuah-Darko’s accusations are “not true, and are an affront to all victims of sexual abuse.”

Both artists have since made statements with ARTnews about their relationship.

“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. These claims are also a slap in the face for all victims of sexual abuse. I have no idea why this individual has decided to target me this way, particularly since he has been trying to be part of my life ever since we met – flying to Nigeria to attend my birthday party, attempting to visit my home in upstate in New York, sending me warm and cordial text messages, and almost a year-ago to the day attending my exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and posting to Instagram that the show by his ‘dear friend’ was ‘breathtaking.’ He has posted extensively on Instagram about his struggles with mental illness and I hope he gets help with whatever he is going through. I will vigorously defend my name and reputation,” Wiley said.

Awuah-Darko responded, “Reconciling with the painful reality of Kehinde’s assault against me was something that I only accepted in late October 2023, when I confided in one of my best friends, who is a gallerist. That is how recent my acceptance of my assault was and after years of therapy over time,” Awuah-Darko wrote. “My relationship with Kehinde in months and moments prior to my epiphany of the abuse I experienced under his hand, would have been friendly and even cordial; whether it was the birthday party he invited me to or discussions about the possibility of meeting. Much like his OTHER VICTIMS. I think it is important to constantly challenge the misconception that a sexual predator is a complete stranger.”

He also claims that nearly 90% of sexual assault victims know their perpetrator, but RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) projects that number to be closer to 80%. A statement alluding to Wiley’s “other victims” was also included in Awuah-Darko’s original Instagram post, claiming that there were others in “New York, Beijing, etc.”

Awuah-Darko’s Instagram post ends with this: “To Kehinde: I thoroughly invite you to leverage your supposed credibility, your influence, your loyalists, and everything you have to gag those of us who come forward. Because I assure you, you will need it.”

Wiley’s post ends with, “I kindly ask for privacy as I work to clear my name.” When asked for comment by ARTnews, Wiley’s representation did not respond, and Black Rock Senegal, the organization he founded, declined.