On Monday, both Barack and Michelle Obama returned to the public spotlight to unveil their official portraits. They are now on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The unveiling was a historic event, which celebrated so much more than impressive portraits. It was an occasion to celebrate African Americans, social justice and equality.
The former president chose Brooklyn-based artist, Kehinde Wiley, to paint his portrait. While Michelle Obama chose Amy Sherald, from Baltimore. Both Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to paint the first African American president and first lady. A moment which Wiley said “is absolutely overwhelming.”
Wiley, who is known for depicting ordinary people in positions of power, created an impressive portrait of Obama sitting assuredly in a wooden chair, against a vibrant backdrop of leaves and flowers.
Why the botanical background? Wiley found it fitting since Obama was “charting his path on Earth”. The flowers are also relevant to Obama’s background, with varieties hailing from Chicago, Hawaii and Africa.
When it came to Michelle Obama’s portrait, a beautiful Michelle sits gracefully and quietly against a blue background, wearing a dress with bold patterns and color blocks. As opposed to Wiley’s painting, Sherald’s work focuses more on composition rather than realism.
In her response to the unveiling, Michelle Obama believes her portrait will have a positive impact on “young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall in this great American institution.”
Starting today, these portraits will be open to public viewing.