These Portraits Of The Obamas Are About To Be Black As Hell

Michelle and Barack Obama/Lawrence Jackson/White House/Public Domain


Every President and First Lady has an official, hand-painted portrait. But what most don’t know is that these portraits aren’t commissioned until after presidential terms have ended -- sometimes up to two years upon the President’s leave from office.

These  portraits become iconic images in history, are housed by the National Portrait Gallery, and sometimes on loan to the White House or other institutions for viewing.

In their usual fashion, our President and First Lady - Barack and Michelle Obama - will make history with their official portraits. Barack Obama has commissioned the talented Kehinde Wiley and Michelle Obama has commissioned Amy Sherald - making it the first time Black artists have been selected to paint a presidential couple.

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are at different points in their careers,  but both overflow with gifts and talents at every brush stroke. Wiley is internationally-renowned and his work has made national TV appearances in shows like Empire, in addition to being on view at artistic powerhouses like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Likewise Sherald, who exhibits her work at the National Museum of African American History and Culture among other venues, also won the National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. But it’s no surprise that both of their careers will catapult after this historic commission: the Smithsonian has budgeted $500,000 total for the works.

Both Wiley and Sherald center Blackness in their artistic works. Sherald paints Blackness in grayscale -- stating that her work “began as an exploration to exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing ‘color’ but still portraying racialized bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture.”

Wiley, known for his highly naturalistic paintings of Black people in heroic poses, applies “visual vocabulary and conventions of glorification, wealth, prestige, and history to subject matter drawn from the urban fabric.” His work is full of color, juxtapositions, and critique.

Both Sherald and Wiley’s talent matches the depth of their subject’s positioning; and each artist accomplished tremendous feats before being selected for such an honor. Let their lives and progress be a testament to pursue your own dream - one that critiques the status quo, amplifies our voices, and draws light to the beauty of Blackness.

Check out some of Wiley’s breathtaking work here and Amy Sherald’s here.

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