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Installation of Maasai necklaces © Natali Wiseman

Installation of Maasai necklaces, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

While many of the other sitters in Kehinde Wiley’s paintings often wear hip hop-inspired jewelry like diamond chain necklaces, the young man in Mugshot Study wears layers of beaded necklaces. These beaded strands are similar to traditional African Maasai adornments, such as those in SAM’s collection. Because Maasai jewelry is never purchased but only acquired when received as a gift, the collection of necklaces that this person wears can indicate his popularity. Maasai culture associates each color with certain meanings—white for purity, red for blood, warrior, or bravery, and black for rain—suggesting different traits of the wearer’s character.