The Obamas have finally unveiled their official portraits, and true to form they are a deliberate and significant change from the presidential portraits which currently fill the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
Painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, the two portraits are vivid depictions from the minds of African American artists – a seismic shift from previous portraits, which were universally paintings of white people done by other white people. The stodgy form of the presidential form has been lifted here: Barack is show sitting on a simple chair in front of a wall of leaves, and Michelle‘s is chic and minimal.
Here they are in full:
Barack Obama said he selected Wiley as the artist for his official portrait because his works – which are usually photorealistic images of black men in fantastical surroundings – challenge our preconceived notions of privilege.
“What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege,” Obama said.
Here’s how Wiley described it at the ceremony’s unveiling:
In a very symbolic way, what I’m doing is charting his path on earth through those plants that weave their way. There’s a fight going on between he in the foreground and the plants that are trying to announce themselves underneath his feet. Who gets to be the star of the show? The story or the man who inhabits that story?
Barack mused that he and Michelle were likely the first people in their respective families to have a portrait taken at all. In the ceremony, he also reflected on art which explores the “beauty, power, grace, and dignity of people who are often invisible, and that puts them on a grand stage, lifting them up, giving them a platform, placing them where they belong at the center of American life.”
Bottom line? They’re pretty bloody nice paintings. Also, we now have this GIF.
Image: Getty Images
— Shoshana Weissmann, Sloth Committee Chair (@senatorshoshana) February 12, 2018