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Lawyers representing Kehinde Wiley say the US artist will take “any and all necessary actions” to clear his name including starting legal action against fellow artist Joseph Awuah-Darko who claims Wiley sexually assaulted him in June 2021. Wiley says the claims are “not true”, “deeply hurtful” and a “slap in the face to all victims of sexual abuse”.

In an Instagram post from 19 May, the British-born Ghanaian artist Awuah-Darko said he was “inappropriately groped” by Wiley, who allegedly grabbed Awuah-Darko’s buttocks and made sexually suggestive comments during a dinner held at the Noldor Artist Residency in Ghana, which Awuah-Darko founded in 2020.

“The act was categorically unwelcome and unprovoked—Wiley had barely known me for more than two hours by this point,” Awuah-Darko wrote. “It was done by a critically celebrated artist who knew the power he wielded and seemed clearly prepared to abuse it. Nevertheless, I placated the situation with awkward humour and the dinner subsequently continued.”

Later that evening, Awuah-Darko alleges another assault occurred that was “much more severe and violent.” In an interview with the New York Times, Awuah-Darko said that a sexual encounter began consensually, but that it then moved to a bedroom, where he says that Wiley forced himself on him. The alleged assault “almost destroyed me”, Awuah-Darko said on Instagram.

Wiley, one of the US’s biggest artists who painted former president Barack Obama’s portrait in 2018, says in a statement provided to The Art Newspaper that, “Someone I had a brief, consensual relationship with is now making false, disturbing, and defamatory accusations about our time together”.

Wiley claims that Awuah-Darko had “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’.”

In a 19 May cease-and-desist letter seen by The Art Newspaper, Wiley’s lawyers said Awuah-Darko’s posts were “categorically false and defamatory”. An earlier post, from 23 March, contained similar “false allegations” without specifically naming Wiley. The lawyers said Awuah-Darko has persisted in a “malicious claim to ruin [Wiley’s] reputation” for his own “financial gain and attention-seeking goals”. They characterise the incident as a “consensual sexual encounter that was in no way coercive or abusive”.

The lawyers go on to say that for years following the evening in question Awuah-Darko’s told “many people that you recalled your encounter with Mr Wiley with fondness and that you wished your relationship with him could deepen and continue”.

In his 19 May post, Awuah-Darko said that he did not “immediately confront the reality of my abuse”. In the years following the alleged incidents, he said he “gaslit” himself, initially convincing himself that his encounters with Wiley had been loving. It was only after receiving therapy that he admitted to himself in autumn 2023 that the incidents had been assaults and told a friend what had happened. The British-Ghanaian artist also said widespread anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in Ghana contributed to his fear of speaking out. LGBTQ+ relationships and sexual activity are currently illegal in the country.

“I am aware I’m not the perfect sexual assault victim,” Awuah-Darko wrote on Instagram, “but this is what happened to me. I’m hoping other people come forward.” He adds: “I truly hope that the era of the ‘untouchable man’ is coming to an end and that accountability preserves in order for real collective healing to begin.”

Wiley’s lawyers demand that Awuah-Darko now removes his Instagram posts from 23 March and 19 May and further refrains from “publishing false, misleading, and/or defamatory statements”; should he refuse, the lawyers say Wiley “will take any and all necessary actions to clear his name”. At the time of writing, the posts had not been taken down. Awuah-Darko could not be reached for comment but told the New York Times on Monday that he had not seen the cease-and-desist letter.

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