Published: Wed, February 14, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama's portrait artist, painted black girls beheading white girls

Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama's portrait artist, painted black girls beheading white girls

Just as Barack and Michelle Obama became the first African American couple to be featured on the walls of the Presidential Gallery, so did Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald become the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian Institution.

To combat critical perceptions of Michelle's portrait, CNN White House reporter Kate Bennettoffered some details on Sherald's artistic style, which is reportedly why she was chosen to paint the former first lady. President Obama is one of the most important cultural and political icons in US history as America's first and only black president.

"This portrait is incredible, but I really hope there's another version with the tan suit and a cigarette", one user commented. For example, Wiley included flowers like jasmine to represent Hawaii, Obama's birthplace; African blue lilies for Kenya, the birthplace of his father; and chrysanthemums for Chicago, the birthplace of his political career. His work, Obama said, like our democracy, "is not simply celebrating the high and the mighty and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down, but rather that it comes from the bottom up". "I think it's a representation of all black women". "I see people who have the vision and the intent to not only be great people, but great thought leaders".

"Milly's design also resembles the inspired quilt masterpieces made by the women of Gee's Bend, a small remote black community in Alabama where they compose quilts in geometries that transform clothes and fabric remnants into masterpieces", she said.

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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. She's not centered in her painting, but rising above the center.

Michelle Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of colour in the years ahead. "And how they might see themselves in that presidency". Her models are black, and they are creatures of fashion who stand upright against backdrops of pastel monochrome. From her husband's first campaign she was scrutinized, even more than her husband, who was the one running-an appearance on "Larry King Live" had viewers nervous about her stridency.

Politico also suggested a hidden political message in Obama's choice of Smith as the gown's designer. Instead, they were deliberately commissioned by two different artists for their unique approaches to portraiture.

The Portrait Gallery's tradition of commissioning presidential portraits began with President George HW Bush.

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But ultimately, it presents something new.

The former president was painted in a suit - without a tie - against a background of leaves and flowers on the edge of a wooden chair, and the former FLOTUS looked lovely in a flowy dress with geometric patterns and a halter neckline.

Barton Girdwood produced the broadcast version of this story.

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