Obama’s portrait artist denies allegations of sexual assault, claiming accuser ‘aggressively’ pursued him

Obama’s portrait artist denies allegations of sexual assault, claiming accuser ‘aggressively’ pursued him

Artist Kehinde Wiley, best known for painting Barack Obama’s presidential portrait, has denied sexual assault allegations in a new post on social media, claiming his accuser has pursued him “over the years.”

Last month, British-Ghanian artist and curator Joseph Awuah-Darko accused Wiley of sexually assaulting him twice in 2021. “It almost destroyed me,” the artist wrote of the alleged incident on Instagram.

In the post, Awuah-Darko claimed that on June 9, 2021, he was “inappropriately groped” by Wiley at a dinner hosted by Noldor Artist Residency in Ghana to celebrate Wiley’s work. He said the groping was “unwelcome and unprovoked” and that it had happened in front of another guest.

He then alleged that a second assault was “much more severe and violent,” without going into further detail. However, he later told The New York Times that the “sexual encounter began consensually, but that it then moved to a bedroom, where… Mr. Wiley forced himself on him after Mr. Awuah-Darko had said he did not want to go further.”

Wiley has now responded to Awuah-Darko’s allegations in his own June 11 Instagram post, writing: “I need to set the record straight about false claims made against me. My accuser’s disturbing allegations are baseless and defamatory. And while I largely stayed silent, I must bring the truth about how he has pursued me over the years to light.”

Alongside screenshots of their private interactions on WhatsApp, Wiley confirmed that he had met Awauah-Darko at a 2021 “dinner hosted at his loft space in Ghana.”

“We were flirting all night,” Wiley explained. “Around 4am, he came to my hotel room. We had a one time encounter. Everything was consensual.”

Kehinde Wiley called the allegations a ‘reckless smear campaign’ (Getty Images)
Kehinde Wiley called the allegations a ‘reckless smear campaign’ (Getty Images)

Wiley continued: “The next day, he left happily, as witnessed by my assistant who arranged his transportation home. He also set me these friendly and flirty text messages. This marked the beginning of years of Joseph aggressively pursuing a relationship with me.

“In February 2022, a year after we first met, he traveled 4,377 miles from London to Lagos, Nigeria JUST to attend my birthday party,” he claimed. “Just last year he repeatedly sought to visit me at my cabin in Upstate New York, which I ignored.

“Since our first encounter in 2021, he has consistently sent me messages via phone and Instagram professing his love for me, my talent, and my work.”

Calling the allegations a “reckless smear campaign,” Wiley accused Awuah-Darko of harassing friends and colleagues “desperately seeking any information to support his ridiculous campaigns.”

“He found nothing,” Wiley said, adding that Awuah-Darko “finally managed to conspire” with a “person I had a brief consensual encounter with in 2021; this person had also hoped for a more significant relationship.”

“We live in a world where a single false social media post can destroy someone’s life, where people are tried and convicted online without regard for the truth. This is dangerous and wrong,” Wiley concluded. “I encourage all who read this post to take a closer look at my accusers and their motivations.”

Wiley has since sent Awuah-Darko a cease and desist letter demanding that he remove the “categorically false and defamatory” Instagram posts, CNN reports.

Awuah-Darko, meanwhile, addressed Wiley directly in an Instagram post shared on Monday, that read: “Sue me and EVERY OTHER victim that has publicly come forward for defamation if you say our claims are ‘false.’ I dare you. And do it quickly.”