Walking through the wooden doors at Black Rock—Kehinde Wiley’s Senegal-based artist residency—is an incongruous experience. The courtyard is dense with greenery and the towering black walls that surround it are slick and modern. But just outside, the dusty roads of Dakar are lined with bare, half-built housing blocks. The city feels unfinished, and I say as much to Wiley when we meet. “This is what a developing country looks like when it’s coming into its own,” he says, motioning toward the scaffolding outside. “It’s a really exciting time to be here, to be able to say that you bore witness to the development of a nation.”
Wiley’s own relationship to Senegal began at the age of 19, when he was traveling to Nigeria to meet his estranged father for the first time. “Back then there was something called Air Afrique, and you would have to go through France or Dakar in order to get there,” he says. “It made an impression on me, just being the first place in Africa where I had ever physically touched down. It has a kind of emotional resonance.”
Some 25 years later, he is reclining on a plush gray sofa in Black Rock’s open-plan communal area. Wiley established the program in 2019, bringing artists from around the world to Dakar for one- to three-month stays. Designed by the Senegalese architect Abib Djenne, its complex includes a residence for Wiley, three apartments with adjacent studio spaces for visiting artists, as well as a spa, gym, library, and professional kitchen, in which a resident chef prepares three meals a day. It’s incredibly luxurious. “There’s a level of quality that I demand,” Wiley says. “I want to set the bar for the way that you think about an experience in West Africa.”
Our interview takes place in a living space lined with works by the photographer Dwayne Rodgers, who was specially commissioned to create a series for Black Rock. The hum of conversation drifts in from the dining room, where a group of Wiley’s friends are gathered, and floor-to-ceiling windows reveal an infinity pool pouring into the Atlantic Ocean (each studio benefits from the same breathtaking vista). Inky volcanic rocks, after which the residency is named, hem the shore.