The Obama’s Presidential Portraits Make History

Grace Fields, News Editor

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In the midst of so many heartbreaking happenings, our country is in need of some happy stories. A recent bit of uplifting news is that of the release of former President Barack and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portraits.

Barack and Michelle Obama

The portraits made their public debut on Monday, Feb. 12 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, fulfilling what is considered a rite of passage for many former presidents.

 

Both Barack and Michelle’s portraits were unlike the typical presidential portrait, which is creating quite a stir. Many believe the portraits are too abstract and confusing, but when a closer look is taken, they can easily be understood.

Barack and Michelle Obama standing next to their portraits

Each portrait was commissioned by an African-American artist that is known for their social justice-themed art, and this theme continues in the Obama’s portraits.

 

Michelle Obama’s portrait was painted by Amy Sherald, a unique artist from Baltimore who brings light to racial issues in her portraits by painting black skin with a gray palette, as she did in Michelle’s. Sherald chose to paint her skin gray in an attempt to take away the focus on skin color and show that her subjects are more than their skin.

Michelle Obama and Amy Sherald standing next to the completed portrait

In the painting, Michelle’s dress has swatches of geometric patterns on it. The New Yorker reported that Sherald said the patterns reminded her of the quilt-making done by black women artisans in Alabama.

 

After revealing the painting, Michelle said that she, “was a little overwhelmed, to say the least,” CNN reported.

 

Barack Obama was equally in awe with the portrait, telling Sherald, “Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love.”

 

Barack Obama’s portrait was commissioned by Kehinde Wiley, a Yale University artist best known for his bright paintings of people of color, often striking powerful poses that are similar to the master-manner style of European royal portraits.

The revealing of Barack Obama’s portrait by Kehinde Wiley (seen on the left)

The painting is rich with botanical symbolism, as the different types of flowers in the background of his portrait all have meaningful backgrounds.

 

The Washington Post says that the flowers include jasmine, which represent Barack Obama’s home state of Hawaii, chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago – where Barack first began his political career, and African blue lilies that are representative of his father’s Kenyan heritage.

 

CNN reported that Obama expressed, “How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” as the portrait was revealed.

 

The Washington Post reports that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery saw over 70,000 visitors in the first week after the portraits debut, which has helped spark many important conversations about the substance of the portraits.

The Obama’s at the portrait reveal

The social justice awareness that the paintings are creating is of the utmost importance and is, without a doubt, exactly what they were intended to do.

 

Barack and Michelle Obama, Amy Sherald, and Kehinde Wiley, have outdone themselves, and one can only hope that, for as long as the paintings hang in the Smithsonian, the spark that they have lit will continue to grow and spread until there is no longer a need for it at all.

 

(And Barack or Michelle, if you’re reading this, please come back. We miss you. And love you.)

About the Writer
Grace Fields, News Editor
Grace Fields is a second year Staff Writer for,The Highland Fling and a first year News Editor. She is a senior, runs varsity track and field, and plays violin outside of school. Grace enjoys traveling, listening to music, and cuddling with her dog, a vest-wearing chihuahua named Andrew. In the future, she hopes to live...
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