Amref Health Africa (Ameref) held its annual ArtBall in Brooklyn, NY, on May 4, at Industria. The night was filled with philanthropy, art, music and culture in celebration of the organization’s vital work in Africa. Amref is the largest and oldest international health development Non-Governmental Organization based in Africa. It delivers critical health services and trains over 30 million people each year in 35 sub-Saharan countries across the continent. To help raise money for the organization, Sotheby’s hosted an African and Black Contemporary art auction, and the evening was capped off with entertainment, food integrations, an open bar, VIP dinner and an award ceremony.

The ball was co-chaired by Carmelo Anthony, Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, and the honoree for the night was artist Kehinde Wiley, who received The Rees Visionary Award for his work in helping to change the conversation around African and Black art. Wiley’s “Black Presence” art exhibitions aim to “reclaim the presence of Black people: our royalty, our martyrs, and our everyday lives, in the world of fine art,” according to a statement provided by the Amref ArtBall.

Kehinde Wiley’s art illustrates people of color in scenes from old master paintings. His most notable oil on canvas piece depicts President Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States and the country’s first Black president, which was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery on February 12, 2018. It was the first time the National Portrait Gallery commissioned two Black artists, Wiley and Amy Sherald, who was commissioned to paint Michelle Obama’s portrait.

©Kehinde Wiley
Former President Barack Obama and artist Kehinde Wiley unveil his portrait during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (via NPR).
Image provided by Amref
Image provided by Amref
Image provided by Amref

In response to being honored, Wiley, stated, “Amref’s commitment to strengthening Africa’s health infrastructure is crucial and I particularly want to acknowledge their programs in Senegal and Nigeria, two countries that are of significant importance to my journey.” He went on to say, “I am grateful to be recognized with the Rees Visionary Award for my artistic practice and my founding of Black Rock Global Arts Foundation, which is on a mission to support new artistic creation and to incite change in the global discourse about what Africa means today.”

Artist Kehinde Wiley receiving the Rees Visionary Award at Amref Health Africa’s ArtBall 2024 (image provided by Amref).

Emily Correale, Director, Amref Health Africa, added, “Amref Health Africa is thrilled to honor Kehinde Wiley at ArtBall 2024. ArtBall was started to not only raise funds for our healthcare work but also to celebrate the greatness of the African continent through art and culture. Every year at the event, we honor an artist with the Rees Visionary Award. The award is named after our late founder, Dr. Thomas Rees, who was a pioneering reconstructive surgeon, pilot, author, musician, and sculptor. This Award is given to artists we feel are not only changing the narrative around African and Black art, but also creating exceptional work that educates, inspires, and emboldens the viewer through these challenging times. This year, we chose to honor Wiley and celebrate ‘Black Presence,’ aligning with his focus on reclaiming the presence of Black people: their royalty, their martyrs, and their everyday lives, in the world of fine art.”

Photos from the Amref ArtBall