Published: Wed, February 14, 2018
Global Media | By Derrick Guzman

Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits unveiled

Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits unveiled

The artist who painted former President Barack Obama for the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian has a history of including depictions of sperm in his work, and has been described as "predatory" and "perverse" by The Village Voice.

We're still in awe of the stunning portrait of Michelle Obama that was revealed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. yesterday. It was a odd enough for a presidential portrait that even CNN declared it to be a portrait of "the lonely president".

"The simple fact of her portrait hanging with those of other first ladies is a cultural and emotional milestone".

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was "less becoming". The former president's portrait featured him sitting on a chair surrounded by fauna from Illinois, Hawaii and Africa, representing his heritage. The artists themselves, both African-American, have a history of tackling race issues - surely adding to the context with each the paintings were completed.


Wiley, an established artist whose work is held by prominent museums worldwide, has produced a characteristically flat, nearly polished surface, with intensely rich colors and a busy, sumptuous background that recalls his interest in portraiture.

Shortly after yesterday's unveiling, Barack Obama wrote about the portraits on his official website; Obama.org.

"And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives", she continued, "because I was one of those girls". I can't tell him to do that to himself. In the past, Sherald has chosen her subjects for their ineffable "quality of existing in the past, present, and future simultaneously", her gallerist Monique Meloche has said; it is true that, before one of Sherald's figures, you think not about the passage of time or the oppressive reach of the state.

On Twitter, reactions to the portraits quickly poured in - with a mixture of admiration and mockery.


Despite the critics, Michelle Obama's biggest fan, her husband, former president Barack Obama, had nothing but admiration for the portrait. Plus, how they gave recognition to the black artists who created them.

Wiley's former work includes paintings of black women who are dangling the decapitated heads of white women by the hair.

Then the NPG's director, Kim Sajet, and Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton appeared from behind the curtain, followed by artists Sherald and Wiley, and then Michelle and Barack Obama. And yet this is how the subject would like posterity-young black girls especially, she said in a speech-to see her, through Sherald's vision: as a herald of success. The dress has captured people's attention because of what a gorgeous garment it is, but there's also a little more behind it: It captures Michelle's modernity and openness during her tenure as First Lady.


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