Barack and Michelle Obama Commissioned in Historic Smithsonian Gallery

First Black Artists to Paint Former Presidents for Smithsonian

Smithsonian Gallery Now Displaying Barack and Michelle Obama Portraits

Today, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is displaying paintings of former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama. They were first unveiled yesterday in a private observance as they celebrated the Gallery’s 50th anniversary. The artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, were selected by the Obamas to commission the previous president and first lady. Out a total of 15-20 candidates, Wiley and Sherald have now become the first African American artists to paint a presidential couple for the gallery.

Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley / oOil on canvas, 2018 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors to the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia. © 2018 Kehinde Wiley

Shortly after yesterday’s unveiling, Barack Obama wrote about the portraits on his official website; Obama.org. The former president praised the artist’s efforts and acknowledged the significance that art has on American culture. Obama said, “Thanks to Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. These works upend the notion that there are worlds where African Americans belong and worlds where we don’t.”

While Michelle Obama said at the unveiling that she was “a little overwhelmed, to say the least”, adding, that she was thinking about” the impact Ms. Sherald’s work will have on “girls and girls of color”.

“They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution,” she said. “And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald / Oil on linen, 2018 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors to the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.

The Black Artists Who Made History for Black History Month

Kehinde Wiley is a New York native recognized for his depictions of young African American men with urban vogue appeal. Wiley’s highly dense palette and colorful expression bring out the raw nature of black living in American culture. He used an oil-on-canvas method to depict Barack Obama.

Amy Sherald is based out of Baltimore and known for her life-size paintings of African Americans. Her works stand in direct opposition to prejudice and discrimination while questioning contemporary definitions of identity. Sherald’s painting was an oil-on-linen painting of Michelle Obama.

National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet said in a press statement: “As a museum of history and art, we have learned over the past half-century that the best portraiture has the power to bring world leaders into dialogue with everyday Americans. These two paintings fall into that category, and we believe they will serve as an inspiration for generations to come.”

Portrait unveiling of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2018. Photo by Pete Souza

Turning Paint in American History?

Long after Obama’s presidency, his administration will be remembered through historic media such as those displayed at Smithsonian’s gallery. Not only is it the first African American presidential couple in its gallery but was created by the first black artists to ever paint the presidents for its institution. As Obama said; these portraits challenge the status quo and support members of marginalized communities who need the inspiration to carry on. It’s a historic time in America that was perfectly positioned for its debut during Black History Month of 2018.

Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley / Oil on canvas, 2018 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors to the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.
© 2018 Kehinde Wiley

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald / Oil on linen, 2018 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors to the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.

Photo by Pete Souza: Portrait unveiling of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2018


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