Monday was a big day for the Obamas, who spent the morning in Washington unveiling their official portraits at the Smithsonian.
It is tradition for former presidents and first ladies to be painted by their choice of artist to be displayed at the National Portrait Gallery.
For Barack, it was important that Yale University-trained painter, Kehinde Wiley, be behind his famous photo that will stand forever. Wiley is now the first African-American artist to create an official presidential portrait for the world renowned museum.
“What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege,” Obama said during the unveiling.
Former POTUS even suggested that he felt a real connection to the painter. “What we did find was that we had certain things in common. Both of us had American mothers who raised us with extraordinary love and support. Both of us had African fathers who had been absent from our lives, and in some ways our journeys involved searching for them, and what that meant,” he said. “I ended up writing about that journey and channeling it into the work that I did because I cannot paint,” he said.
The father of two also admitted to having a little input when it came to his looks … specifically, his grey hair. “I tried to negotiate less gray hair, and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears, struck out on that as well,” he joked.
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) February 12, 2018
Michelle chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who is known for using grey for Black skin tones. Speaking of how she impacts “girls and girls of color,” former FLOTUS suggested, “They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution … And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) February 12, 2018
Following the unveiling, several stars reposted the images on social media and praised the stunning artwork.
“This is our ability to say: I matter. I was here. To be the first African American painter to paint the first African American president of the United States…It doesn’t get any better than that.” – Kehinde Wiley Congratulations to @kehindewiley on the unveiling of your portrait of President @barackobama and to @asherald for your portrait of @michelleobama!!!! History has now been made at @smithsoniannpg 🙌🏾 I am inspired by you and I salute you!! #myNPG
Until now, @SimmieKnox was the only Black artist in American history to be commissioned to paint the official presidential portraits (the Clintons). Today that changed, as Amy Sherald’s (@Asherald) painting of First Lady @MichelleObama and @KehindeWiley’s painting of President @BarackObama, were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Congratulations!! #WeAre #WeCan #WeDo
Jesse Williams even defended the artist behind Michelle’s photo, giving fans a little background information on her use of colors.
#SWIPE::: For those of y’all trippin off of the use of color / visual style in @AmySherald’s official portrait of First Lady @MichelleObama, this is an opportunity to get familiar with her practice, artistic choices and the broader possibility that contextual factors are at play when considering fine art. Amy Sherald is well known for using a grayscale to paint skin tones as a way of challenging the concept of color-as-race. ************ “The subjects of Amy Sherald’s paintings have skin the color of charcoal ― an overcast hue that exists outside the spectrum of race as we often categorize it. The grey tone, made from a combination of black and Naples yellow, transforms Sherald’s models from humans to mythical beings, embodying racialized physical attributes while rejecting the primary signifier of race ― one’s flesh. ‘It was an aesthetic decision at first,’ Sherald explained to The Huffington Post. ‘I thought visually it looked fantastic.’ Only later did the decision illuminate a certain freedom. Painting figures with impossibly colored flesh allowed her to explore the stories that had never been told, with subjects ― both real and imagined and sometimes both ― who diverged from the overarching historical narrative of blackness. ‘These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale,’ she explains in a statement online, ‘illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history.’ #myNPG
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