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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.)