Barack and Michelle Obama, the former president and first lady, had their official portraits unveiled Monday at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
As befitting the first African-American couple to live in the White House, the portraits were the first of a president and first lady to be painted by African-American artists.
President Obama’s portrait, which he termed “pretty sharp,” was painted in bold colors by Kehinde Wiley and showed Obama seated against a backdrop of flowers. Michelle Obama’s portrait was painted by Amy Sherald, a Baltimore-based artist who focuses on social justice issues, and was done in a more muted palette. Though the former president was also impressed that Sherald captured his wife’s “hotness.”
Michelle Obama was a bit more reflective, telling the crowd: “I’m thinking of all the girls of color who will come and see someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives.”
The artists attended the unveiling, which gave them an opportunity to talk about the intent of their work:
the artist explains that each of the flowers is drawn from a place where Obama lived – Chicago, Hawaii, Kenya, and so the vision was “charting his path through earth through those plants” and challenging between the man and the story “who gets to be the star of the show” https://t.co/2WxgbdTZMx
— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) February 12, 2018
Amy Sherald’s incredible portrait of @MichelleObama. Sherald uses greyscale to paint skin tone in order to take away “color,” so her subjects can be seen for their personality and presence. pic.twitter.com/mLiLZSlNEU
— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) February 12, 2018
The unveiling also gave Twitter users a chance for some jokes:
— Siraj A. Hashmi (@SirajAHashmi) February 12, 2018
The portraits will be displayed at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.