The National Portrait Gallery Unveils Barack And Michelle Obama's Official Portraits

Jonathan Hernandez
February 16, 2018

The artist who painted former President Barack Obama's official presidential portrait hailed the former first couple's choice of black artists for both paintings, calling it a signal that it was now OK for the work of artists who look like them to hang in the halls of the world's great institutions. In breaking with the tradition of recent presidential portraits showing the men in their offices, Barack Obama is seated among a sea of green foliage with sparks of color.

Mrs Obama said she was "a little overwhelmed, to say the least", after her portrait was unveiled, adding that she was aware of the impact her portrait would have on "girls and girls of colour".

Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Kim Sajet said, "For 50 years, the National Portrait Gallery has told the story of America through the people who have impacted this country's history and culture". Some people, though, weren't so thrilled, saying they felt like Michelle Obama's portrait didn't look like her. The former president was painted majestically sitting against a floral backdrop by painter Kehinde Wiley.

Wiley is internationally acclaimed for his large-scale paintings of African Americans in poses evoking famous historical figures. Now think about what Michelle Obama represents.

Netizens, including celebrities, have reacted to the Obamas' portraits with USA actor and comedian Chris Rock calling Obama the "real Black Panther". I can also say that it put me in mind of Andrew Marvell's great metaphysical poem "The Garden", which I have not thought about for almost 50 years. "We've got to bring it down just a touch". The Obamas worked with curators and staff from the National Portrait Gallery, in addition to getting advice from friends, including White House curator William Allman, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and designer Michael Smith.

After the portraits were released, many people said they were totally blown away by the artwork.


Mr Obama, who was the first African-American US president, complimented Sherald for her portrait of Michelle.

Obama said he was drawn to Wiley's work because the artist challenges conventional views of power and privilege.

The room applauded again as artist Amy Sherald unveiled her painting of Mrs. Obama.

It is traditional for the President and First Lady to sit for formal portraits.

Wiley echoed Sherald's gratitude and pride. "I'm humbled, honored, proud, but most of all, I'm so incredibly grateful to all those who came before me in this journey", said Obama to NBC.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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