Former US President Barack Obama and the former First Lady Michelle Obama made a public appearance in the capital, Washington DC on Monday at the event of the unveiling of their unique portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
Group of supporters, including former Vice President Joseph Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Senior Adviser David Axelrod, attended the ceremony. Also in attendance were Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Gayle King.
Artist Kehinde Wiley who is famous for his big colorful paintings on African-American subjects did the job of painting the former President’s portrait that will be put for display in the museum’s exhibition of America’s Presidents. The 7-foot portrait features a beautiful background of flowers chrysanthemums, which is the official flower of the Obamas’ hometown, Chicago, jasmine, same for Hawaii, where Barack Obama spent his childhood and African blue lilies to symbolise his late father who belonged to Kenya.
Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait, is also the first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Out win Boochever Portrait Competition, she is famous for showing the inner strength of her subjects through different poses and expressions depicted on her portraits. Her portrait of the former first lady Michelle features grey skin tones that is a distinctive feature in most of her paintings. Michelle Obama in the painting is wearing a dress under the label Milly by designer Michelle Smith, with geometric color pattern.The dress gathers its inspiration from quilts made by women in a remote black community of Alabama.
Sherald at the unveiling said, “My approach to portraiture is conceptual,”
Michelle Obama said that she is “Humbled, I am
honoured, I’m proud, but most of all so incredibly grateful to all the people who came before me in this journey.”
She spoke of having a “sister girl” connection with the painter, Sherald.
The Obamas made the selection of the painter from a group of names which were suggested by the National Portrait Galley. The former first lady was quick to add how amazed she was to look at the neatness and the colours of the painting, it looked so beautiful to her.
The total cost of the commissions and the astounding event was about $500,000, Speilberg and Capshaw being the major donors who funded the commission, while other contributions came from John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen.
The moment former president’s portrait was unveiled, Obama proudly said to the crowd, “How about that? Pretty Sharp.” Obama also jokingly told the crowd how he negotiated with Wiley that he should have less grey hair and smaller ears, but Wiley possesses too much integrity to make the asked change.
Obama also revealed that he isn’t a great subject because “I don’t like posing. I get impatient, I will look at my watch and think, this must be done. One of those pictures must have worked. Why is this taking so long?”
Wiley who grew emotional during his speech talked about how he grew up in South Central Los Angeles and he kept visiting museums where “there weren’t too many people like me” interested in art and paintings making rounds of galleries. He told the crowd, “I was humbled by this invitation, but wasalso inspired by Barack Obama’s personal story, in which both he and I have that echo of single parents the African fathers, that search for the father.”
While Barack Obama will have his portrait featured in the gallery with other Presidents, the portrait of the former first lady Michelle will be featured in the museum’s famous recent acquisitions corridor.