Ghanaian Artist Joseph Awuah-Darko Accuses Kehinde Wiley of Sexual Assault

Wiley maintains that the relationship was brief and consensual.

Kehinde Wiley at the 10th Annual LACMA Art+Film Gala at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2021. Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images for LACMA.

Joseph Awuah-Darko, a prominent figure on the Ghanaian art scene, has accused world-renowned artist Kehinde Wiley of sexual assault. Awuah-Darko said that Wiley assaulted him twice at a June 9, 2021 dinner held in the artist’s honor at the Creative Art Council at the Noldor Artist Residency, which Awuah-Darko founded in 2020. Wiley has denied the allegations.

Awuah-Darko’s May 19 post said that the first assault consisted of Wiley groping his buttocks while he was escorting Wiley and another guest up a flight of stairs to the bathroom. This contact was, he said, “categorically unwelcome and unprovoked.” He said it was witnessed by another dinner guest, who is not named; Awuah-Darko did not immediately respond to an emailed inquiry about the identity of this person. 

“The second assault,” Awuah-Darko said, “was much more severe and violent.” He did not go into specifics. 

A man standing in front of a bookshelf

Joseph Awuah-Darko at his home in London, with acrylic painting on paper by Salah El Mur. Photo: courtesy of Joseph Awuah-Darko.

Wiley responded in an Instagram post, saying: “Someone I had a brief, consensual relationship with almost three years ago is now making a false accusation about our time together. These claims are not true and are an affront to all victims of sexual abuse. I have no idea why he has decided to target me in this way—particularly when there is a litany of evidence showing his claims are false—but I hope he gets the help he needs for whatever he is going through. I kindly ask for privacy as I work to clear my name.”

In a longer statement supplied to Artnet News via his press representative, Marathon Strategies, Wiley added that Awuah-Darko “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.’”

The PR firm provided screenshots of several text messages between Awuah-Darko and Wiley dating from between the time of the alleged assault and Awuah-Darko’s Instagram posts, including the since-deleted May 27, 2023 post in which Awuah-Darko refers to Wiley as “my dear friend.”

Awuah-Darko, who is a collector, artist, musician, writer, curator and entrepreneur, was born in London to a family of Ghanaian financiers and lives in Accra. He appeared on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list in 2019, where he was celebrated both as an artist and the managing director of the African Modern Art Fund. The Noldor Residency supports African and diaspora artists. He collects Ghanaian art stars such as Serge Attukwei Clottey and Gideon Appah.

On March 23, Awuah-Darko posted an Instagram video in which he said he had been assaulted but did not name Wiley. In his post from Sunday, he said that it took him several months to “reconcile” with what had happened and said that given Wiley’s stature 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.”

He also said that there are other victims of abuse at Wiley’s hands in New York (where the artist is based), Beijing (where he has a studio), Nigeria, and elsewhere; he added that other art world professionals “have quietly expressed witnessing this pattern of predatory behaviour [and] that this behaviour by Kehinde has been treated as an open secret within the art world for quite some time.”

Awuah-Darko did not immediately respond to an emailed request to expand on any of these claims. 

No criminal charges have been filed against Wiley, according to a report in the New York Times, which also noted that Wiley’s lawyers sent Awuah-Darko a cease and desist letter demanding that the Ghanaian artist delete his Instagram posts and refrain from making what it said were false statements against Wiley. Awuah-Darko told the Times that he had not seen the letter.

“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,” Awuah-Darko concluded in his Instagram post. “Because I assure you, you will need it.”

Since his first show with Sean Kelly in 2012, Wiley has rocketed to international stardom. He received a U.S. State Department Medal of Honor in 2015 and ascended to even higher rungs of fame when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of President Barack Obama, which was unveiled in 2018. In 2019, he made another splash when he founded Black Rock Senegal, a residency program in that country’s capital city, Dakar.

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