Barack and Michelle Obama revealed their presidential portraits for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on February 12, and while much of the focus was of course on the former president's - a colorful portrayal of Obama in the foreground of a floral motif by Kehinde Wiley - a handful of covert messages are hidden in the former first lady's portrait.
The artist who painted former President Barack Obama's official presidential portrait unveiled Monday is facing scrutiny for past works that depict black women decapitating white women. In Wiley's words, "I am painting women in order to come to terms with the depictions of gender within the context of art history". Wiley says the books served as a "menu" of the elements of a portrait. The background for Mr. Obama's painting is not a dark, solid color, but rather a lush bed of bright green leaves, with his chair nearly suspended in midair.
"Very quickly we arrived at the notion: As opposed to creating a type of echo of historical precedence, we should try to clear the table", Wiley says, and "start at ground level to create something that hasn't been seen before". Wiley, who painted the president's portrait, is known for depicting young black men in poses mimicking those from more famous works of art. And yet this is how the subject would like posterity-young black girls especially, she said in a speech-to see her, through Sherald's vision: as a herald of success.
Part of what Mr Obama saw in Wiley's work was the capacity to elevate ordinary people to the level of royalty, those "so often out of sight and out of mind".
It's one of the questions Obama asked him when they met.
Michelle Obama said she was "overwhelmed to say the least" by the more-than life-size painting. The Obamas' portraits have been much anticipated, as they are the first presidential portraits created by African-American artists. In a since-deleted tweet on this, Hannity wrote, "Obama's portrait - a stark contrast to predecessors with inappropriate sexual innuendo". This may be her goal, but the gray skin - while it isn't imposing - is so inviting that it actually underscores just how black each of her subjects are. "I think it's a representation of all black women".
Michelle Obama's portrait done by Sherald, is a grayscale painting of the former First Lady perched behind a blue background, wearing a white floor-length gown with splashes of color. It also echoes, she did not add, a 2012 painting she did of a woman in a full-length, quilt-paneled skirt, Equilibrium, which is owned by the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. "I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls". The dress has captured people's attention because of what a gorgeous garment it is, but there's also a little more behind it: It captures Michelle's modernity and openness during her tenure as First Lady.
National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet said in a press statement: "As a museum of history and art, we have learned over the past half-century that the best portraiture has the power to bring world leaders into dialogue with everyday Americans".
It does because his Obama portrait is one in a long line of celebrations of the American presidency - and it includes some basic, familiar elements of portraiture.