By: Alex Labidou
It has always been said that Soccer or Football breaks borders across the globe. Does the same apply to sport and art? Oil and water tends to mix better than passionate sports fans and art connoisseurs have but famous athletic wear brand PUMA and world renowned urban artist Kehinde Wiley decided to prove otherwise. In February, the all-star collaboration unveiled an art and fashion collection aimed at displaying the beauty of African Unity through innovative style and impeccable artwork hoping to attract not only passionate soccer fans but the art community as well.
Titled the Unity Collection by PUMA, the exhibit began its tour in Berlin and New York City before making stops in Beijing, Milan and South Africa before 2010 World Cup. Featuring four portraits from Wiley as well as inventive sneakers and jerseys inspired by the artist, the collection’s debut in NYC’s Deitch Project was a huge success. A diverse crowd ranging from famed photorealist painter Chuck Close to sports fans filled the sleek SOHO art gallery to get a first peak of Wiley’s tribute to African soccer.
As the first African World Cup approaches, PUMA and Wiley wanted to illustrate the importance of unity between the continent’s nations. Taking an innovative approach, the baby blue Unity jersey worn by Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast as their third uniforms has a tint of brown created by combining the soils of the three countries. The captivating individual portraits by Wiley show Ivory Coast’s Emmanuel Eboue, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Ghana’s John Mensah surrounded by the patterns of the fabrics in their countries. The highlight of the event was Wiley’s Unity painting which features all three players. Standing in a pose modeled after a famous African sculpture, the players wearing the Unity jersey show the pride of a united continent.
“I strongly believe that unity does exist in Africa. So many times, what we see of Africa are the negative images, the images of war and discontent. The first time that the World Cup is coming to Africa, I really wanted to be able to show the world what I see every day. And there is a type of unity that goes beyond nation, that goes beyond tribe, and it’s important to be able to get those moments down,” Wiley said at the collection’s debut in Berlin. “My engagement with Africa and with Europe and with global culture has drawn me into it. You can’t engage the world without engaging football.”