The Obamas Chose Two Black Artists to Paint Their Official Portraits
By Susan Johnes
Barack and Michelle Obama have hand-picked two Black artists who will paint their official portraits at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
The two Black artists who have so far been commissioned by the Smithsonian are Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald who will paint the portraits of the former president and first lady respectively.
Wiley is a 40-year-old artist from New York and has an arts degree from Yale University. Obama chose Wiley to paint his portrait because Wiley is known for his stunning and amazing paintings featuring everyday Black men and women in style of the Old Masters over colorful backgrounds, associated with hip-hop culture.
In 2012, Wiley came to the public light after he spoke about Obama’s presidency with the BBC.
“ Barack Obama being the president of the most powerful nation in the world means that the image of power is new for an entire generation of not only Black American kids, but every population group in this nation,” Wiley said.
It is apparent that the artist was prepared for this moment because, in 2008, he told Time Out New York that he’d love to do Obama’s official presidential portrait and was actively campaigning.
During a BBC interview in 2012, Wiley also said that he thought it would be interesting to paint Obama. “I’ve done several studies in the past and have worked out different strategies about how that would be. But it’s a unique possibility, and we’ll see where that goes.”
On the other hand, Sherald, who will be painting the former first lady, has a portrait in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Most of her paints are in greyscale and focus on Black men and women, with colorful back-grounds and clothing. Sherald also won a National Portrait Gallery portrait prize last year.
The two are the first Black artists hired by the Smithsonian for a portrait of former presidents since they started commissioning portraits in 1994.
Though the museum has not released the specific unveiling date, the portraits will be revealed in early 2018.
“The Portrait Gallery is delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady,” director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release.
“The two artists have achieved enormous success in their careers. But even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”