Fred Wilson often appropriates art objects to explore issues of race, gender, class, politics, and aesthetics. Made up of five portrait heads of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, Grey Area (Brown Version) refers to one of the most copied works of ancient civilization. The otherwise identical plaster effigies, which he purchased and painted, illustrate a value scale ranging in color from oatmeal to dark chocolate. Thus, Wilson raises, but does not answer, controversial questions about the racial identity of ancient Egyptians.
In both his provocative, groundbreaking installations in cultural institutions and in his studio work, Wilson encourages viewers to recognize how changes in context create changes in meaning. He has said of his practice, “I use beauty as a way of helping people to receive difficult or upsetting ideas. The topical issues are merely a vehicle for making one aware of one’s own perceptual shift—which is the real thrill.”