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Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits are an ode to Black art

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(c) Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

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(c) National Portrait Gallery / Amy Sherald

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(c) National Portrait Gallery / Kehinde Wiley

Afro-american artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald unveiled their portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama on Monday.

The Obamas are the first black couple to have been US President and First Lady so it was no surprised that they’d continued in the “firsts” tradition by commissioning two Black artists to create their official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Indeed, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are now the first Black artists to have painted a presidential couple in the history of the United States. If we were used to unoriginal, strict and sober portraits of former American presidents, The Obamas have ushered in a new era with those vibrant and modern paintings.

Barack’s cool and Michelle’s grace

Known for his colorful and vivid paintings, Kehinde Wiley chose to picture Obama sitting on a wooden chair in a garden full of leafy greens and flowers. Wearing a black suit and a white shirt with no tie, Obama looks just cool and casual just like the image most people have him.

Amy Sherald’s style is way more toned-down than Kehinde’s, and is recognizable by the different shades of grey the artist uses to paint skins. This technique was a target of much criticism online even though it is really Sherald’s signature. The former First Lady is depicted with her hair loose and has her face resting on her chin, unsmiling. There’s something graceful about her gaze and the way her dress falls on the ground.

This two depictions of the former presidential couple bring light to Black artists who are rarely given such opportunities and we hope to see more of their work exposed.


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