Kadir Nelson: The African-American Artist Who Captured 200 Years Of History In A Single Painting

Kadir Nelson’s painting, “Ancient Wonders of the World,” is featured on the November 2021 cover of National Geographic. Image via Kadir Nelson/Twitter


The ‘Ancient Wonders of the World’ painting by Kadir Nelson, an African-American author and artist, sheds light on the rich history of human existence over the last 200 years.

The artistic work depicts Egypt’s ancient history, temples, groundbreaking architecture, the story told by rock art on its walls, and artifacts from various cultures. Nelson told National Geographic that he wanted the artwork to be interpreted as a hero’s journey, and that the untold stories scattered throughout the time capsule were the driving force behind the paintings.

Unlike other works of art that focus on people associated with ancient excavations, Nelson focused solely on historical relics that existed at the time. People may not understand his preference for what found space in his paintings, he explained, but beneath are the lived experiences of people over hundreds of years that the world needs to know about.

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According to Nelson, the Ancient Wonders of the World are akin to a labyrinth that requires people to explore visually in a comprehensive manner. He explained that this explains why it has different dimensions on each layer one looks at, and he also included a central character in the art to help anyone who comes to observe its intrinsic details.

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He stated that he designed the paintings with clear anchor points in mind, with the horizon line leading art lovers from the brightest parts of the paintings to the darker parts. He compared the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico to the Pompeii volcano’s figure symbols and how the elements of light interacted with them.

Nelson stated that the paintings are a reflection of his feelings and aesthetic sense, which influenced how the paintings were put together. He wanted people to appreciate the life embedded in the paintings as well as their ability to accommodate new discoveries, according to him.

He explained that the story of King Taharqa, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh from the kingdom of Kush, made its way into the painting because of the intriguing history he represents. Taharqa’s image will strike any art lover upon first seeing the Ancient Wonders of the World, as the sun and water horizon act as anchors on his flanks.

He then plotted at least 37 of the 100 discoveries around the painting’s focal points. His satisfaction stems from the organization of the various histories, which range from Native American stone paintings to King Tut, the Titanic, Stonehenge, and China’s terracotta army.

Nelson stated that the work gives people enough to think about as they walk through the puzzles of the painting. He describes his work as a movie with multiple scenes in a single timeline. He claims that the painting simply connects the past with its history and moments on one timeline, bringing the viewer to a point where they can appreciate the essence of the story being told.

He hopes that everyone who interacts with the painting will find something worth their time and effort, and will understand what ancient history means to their very existence. Another goal of the African-American artist is for the Ancient Wonders of the World to inspire people to learn about human civilization, which spans two centuries.

Nelson’s work has appeared on the covers of The New Yorker and National Geographic. His artwork can also be found in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of African American History and Culture, the chamber of the United States House of Representatives, the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of African American History and Culture.



Written by How Africa News

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