Iconic Obama Portraits Unveiled in DC

14 February, 2018, 19:02 | Author: Chad Mckenzie
  • Former President Barack Obama right and artist Kehinde Wiley left unveil the Obamas’ official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait in Washington

The unveiling of former President Barack Obama's official portrait on 12 February 2018 also introduced many Americans to artist Kehinde Wiley for the first time as well, as opening the door to late-breaking controversy over some of Wiley's earlier work.

Both portraits will hang in Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. alongside those of previous American leaders.

It does because his Obama portrait is one in a long line of celebrations of the American presidency - and it includes some basic, familiar elements of portraiture.

Guests gathered in the light-filled Kogod Courtyard, snapping pictures with the fashionably-dressed artists and other luminaries before the director of the Portrait Gallery Kim Sajet (sporting a signature statement necklace) introduced the Obama's to roaring applause. "We're still trying to express our identity... when we do see ourselves we're sort of taken aback".

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"I'm also thinking about all the...girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place...will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution."
Her paintings have less realism and focus on shape and color. They generated very little controversy before Wiley's portrait of Obama was publicly unveiled.

However, the Obamas are an unprecedented couple and they continue to break new ground in terms of representation and whom they entrust to represent them.

While less famous than Wiley, Amy Sherald has honed another approach to African American portraiture.

Ms. Michelle Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of colour in the years ahead.

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The floor-length gown Obama wears in the portrait was inspired by a cotton poplin dress designed by Michelle Smith for her spring 2017 Milly collection. The artist has described the influence that black and white photography has had on her style of portraiture. His work, Obama said, like our democracy, "is not simply celebrating the high and the mighty and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down, but rather that it comes from the bottom up". But these portraits will remind future generations how much wish fulfillment was embodied in the Obamas, and how gracefully they bore that burden.

America's 44th president revealed that "like Michelle, I have never had a painting done of myself", and that no one in his family tree had, either, as far as he could tell.

If anyone was in doubt about Obama's extreme political leanings before, hopefully his choice of Wiley to paint his official portrait clarifies the matter for good.

That she chose Sherald as an artist is also significant.

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He said it reinforces the view that the Bank of Canada will proceed "ultra-cautiously" through the rest of 2018. The province of Saskatchewan boasts the second best unemployment rate in the country according to Stats Canada.

"I used the same cotton poplin and minimal, geometric print to create something more conservative and modern", Smith says of the revised design added a bow sash waist and a slightly fuller skirt.

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