Kehinde Wiley Rumors of War Installation

Remarks for Ronald J. Daniels
Kehinde Wiley Rumors of War Installation

Good afternoon! I am so thrilled to join all of you, our students, colleagues, and distinguished guests, for today’s installation of this commanding replica of Rumors of War—the monumental and stunning statue created by world-renowned artist and presidential portraitist Kehinde Wiley.

Let me begin by extending special thanks to our keynote speaker, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, for coming here today to share her insight about the meaning of this piece, as well as to Bill Miller, a dear friend and trustee of Johns Hopkins whose generosity and vision enabled us to bring this powerful and deeply meaningful piece to Homewood.

As Valerie will illuminate and contextualize in far greater depth momentarily, Rumors of War was borne in a convulsive moment in our recent history, when protests over deep and abiding racial inequities in our country led to a broad reconsideration of the stories this nation and its institutions tell about themselves and how effectively we have delivered on the core promises of liberal democracy.

Baltimore was and still is a site of this critical work.

Here, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody—seven years ago this week—set into motion a painful and overdue reckoning about the failure of our institutions to deliver justice and equity to all people.

In the months and years that followed, climactic events like the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 further underscored the work left to do. Here, one aspect of this work entailed the removal of a number of local Confederate monuments throughout Baltimore. This included two statues at the edges of our Homewood campus, one of which was an equestrian statue of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Rumors of War is a stirring refutation of that statue and so many others like it, and the repugnant worldview they represented. This statue, by contrast, evokes the same equestrian tradition, but does so in a way that complicates representations of power and elevates historically marginalized identities, specifically young, Black men.

In Wiley’s words, Rumors of War is “a call to arms … that says, “This is my America, too.”

We are so proud to have it here at Hopkins, where it will serve as a centerpiece of discussion, reflection, and introspection for countless students.

And it is just one monumental expression of our promise to celebrate the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences that are essential to the flourishing, vibrancy and excellence of our University.

I am deeply grateful to our Board of Trustees and our Board Office and the many members of our University community who are supporting this promise through the ongoing work of our JHU Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion and our Diverse Names and Narratives project.

These efforts are part of our commitment to tell a more complete, more intentional story about our institution, through the naming of our buildings and programs and through the public art that graces our campuses—both of which reflect the complex and evolving historical narrative of our university and our aspirations for a more equitable, more inclusive future.

With that, it is my sincere pleasure to cede the podium to two exceptional Blue Jays, Tade Ogunmodede and Zyan Baptiste of the Black Male Initiative Scholars Program, whose efforts have been fundamental in organizing today’s festivities.