It captures her charm & hotness, says Obama about wife's striking portrait

Barack and Michelle Obama Smithsonian Portraits Unveiled Fatima Barrie

Barack and Michelle Obama Smithsonian Portraits Unveiled Fatima Barrie

The Obamas' hand-selected Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, both African-American artists, to paint their portraits. Not so for former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Monday. Wiley is a glittering propagandist who catapults the common black man and the occasional black woman into historical environments of rearing equines and colonial fleur-de-lis tapestries. He was hyper-visible and yet always partly hidden.

Evidence of power is more elusive in Sherald's paintings. "They exist in a place of the past, the present and the future", she says.

Her work focuses on African-American subjects, often painted against brilliantly colored backgrounds, and sometimes holding an object (an oversized coffee cup, or a bunch of balloons) that gives the image a sense of the surreal.

The nation's first black president was not depicted in common presidential spaces, but instead, he is nearly engulfed by nature.

Smith said Obama doesn't have the exact iteration of the dress worn on the runway, but a "more discreet" version with the same corset-style lacing.

"Nobody in my family tree as far as I can tell had their portrait done", said Mr Obama. The Grio likened Obama's post to a king. The artist, Kehinde Wiley, explained that the flowers chart his path on earth. And my guess is that Mrs. Obama is a beloved figure throughout much of the art world, and Sherald's painting will benefit from that sentiment. It's a sharp reminder that she was someone before she was an Obama.

For her portrait, Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald. "These artists were commissioned... because of how they work and a particular viewpoint".

In contrast, in the portrait of Michelle, Sherlad opted for a celestial background and Gray tones for her skin, to show that the concept of "race" is a racial construction. This is a different Michelle, a woman evacuated of celebrity, who appears provisionally dreamlike, almost a shadow.

On Instagram Michelle proudly posted Sherald's portrait and wrote, "As a young girl, even in my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this moment". In this way, Sherald wondrously troubles assumptions about blackness and representation in portraiture. Wiley uses "street casting" to find his models - walking city streets and asking ordinary people if they would pose for a portrait. She was the first one to hug the Queen of England, she was featured in a Carpool Karaoke with Missy Elliott, she was black. It is undeniable that there was a shift in how she was marketed.

It's the radical nature of Barack and Michelle Obama's portraits that has stirred up conversations online and off.

Michelle Obama's likeness will hang at the gallery until November this year. When it comes to a job exclusively held by powerful white men before Obama, her words from March 2015, resonate as something approaching prescience.

In an interview with this newspaper, the curator of paintings and sculptures and Latin art in the Gallery, the Puerto Rican Tainan Caragol, said that Wiley is not a "conventional" artist and, therefore, forces the public to have a "new look at this president and his history, which changed the profile of the United States presidency". The portrait, lovely and discomfiting, is like a memory of what we never knew.

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