News / Art

Official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama have been unveiled

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Kehinde Wiley

The official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama have been unveiled today (12 February) at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Obama’s portrait was painted by New York-based, Yale University-trained artist Kehinde Wiley, whose past subjects include Notorious B.I.G and Grandmaster Flash. Michelle’s painting was executed by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who was the first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

The two artists are the first African-Americans to have carried out presidential portraits. Kehinde is best known for portraying people of colour wearing wreaths and riding on horses in the style of the Old Master paintings. Amy tends to work with bold colours that contrasts the grey hues she uses to paint the skin of her African-American subjects. Both artists, explore and emphasise issues surrounding social justice and are noted for challenging racial preconceptions and prejudices.

During the reveal, Obama joked: “I tried to negotiate less grey hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow (him) to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.” He went on to add: “What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege.” The two paintings will be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery as of tomorrow, 13 February 2018.

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Amy Sherald