In October, former President Barack Obama commissioned artist Kehinde Wiley to do his official portrait.
It is traditional for the President and First Lady to sit for formal portraits. Two sets are created, one for the White House and one for the National Portrait Gallery.
Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama’s portrait.
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery first unveiled the paintings on Monday (12 February) morning. The former President and First Lady, as well as their chosen artists, all spoke at the event.
‘I paint American people,’ Sherald, a Baltimore artist, says at the beginning of her remarks. She further calls Michelle Obama ‘omnipresent’ and explains that she exists in people’s minds and hearts because people see themselves in her.
‘The acts of Michelle Obama being her authentic self became a profound statement that engaged all of us. Because what you represent to this country is an ideal.’
Wiley hails from the other side of the country. Los Angeles, to be exact. He calls the opportunity to paint Obama an ‘insane situation’.
‘I was humbled by this invitation, but I was also inspired by Barack Obama’s personal story.’
He explains the flowers in the painting of Obama are symbolic. One is the state flower of Illinois, Obama’s home state. Other flowers point towards Kenya, others face Hawaii, Obama’s birthplace.
See the beauty
Wiley and Michelle Obama posted their respective portraits to Instagram for everyone to see up close.
Michelle Obama wrote the following caption:
As a young girl, even in my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this moment. Nobody in my family has ever had a portrait – there are no portraits of the Robinsons or the Shields from the South Side of Chicago. This is all a little bit overwhelming, especially when I think about all of the young people who will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this, including so many young girls and young girls of color who don’t often see their images displayed in beautiful and iconic ways. I am so proud to help make that kind of history. But the fact is that none of this would be possible without the extraordinary artist and woman behind this portrait, @asherald. Thank you, Amy – it was a joy to work with you and get to know you.
Here’s the portrait of Barack Obama.
The former President wrote his own caption on his Instagram:
Today, @KehindeWiley and @ASherald became the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. To call this experience humbling would be an understatement. Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.