Presidents’ Day video: The unveiling of the official Obama portraits

In this video, watch the unveiling of the magnificent portraits of President Obama and the former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery. Listen to poignant remarks by President Obama and Mrs. Obama, Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet and artists Wiley and Sherald. Make sure you have some tissues.

Amy Sherald,  Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018, oil on linen.

From the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website:

Michelle Obama remembers growing up on the South Side of Chicago and thinking, “being smart is cooler than anything in the world.” After earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she joined Sidley Austin LLP, where she met Barack Obama in 1989. Guided by the desire to improve her community, she left the firm in the mid-1990s to begin a career in public service. She directed community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center prior to moving to Washington in 2009.

During her husband’s two presidential campaigns, Mrs. Obama delivered poignant speeches that centered on her family’s commitment to serving others and highlighted the importance of her role as a parent. As first lady, she focused on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, children’s health, and military families.

Mrs. Obama selected Amy Sherald, winner of the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, to create her official portrait for the museum. The Baltimore-based artist considers the former first lady to be someone “women can relate to—no matter what shape, size, race, or color. . . . We see our best selves in her.” Here, she portrays Mrs. Obama as both confident and approachable, in a dress by Michelle Smith’s label Milly.

Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama, 2018, oil on canvas (© 2018 Kehinde Wiley) Forty-fourth president, 2009–2017

From the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website:

Barack Obama made history in 2009 by becoming the first African American president. The former Illinois state senator’s election signaled a feeling of hope for the future even as the U.S. was undergoing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. While working to improve the economy, Obama enacted the Affordable Care Act, extending health benefits to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Overseas, he oversaw the drawdown of American troops in the Middle East—a force reduction that was controversially replaced with an expansion of drone and aviation strikes. Though his mission to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was successful, his pledge to close the Guantanamo prison went unrealized.

Artist Kehinde Wiley is known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African Americans posing as famous figures from the history of Western art. This portrait does not include an underlying art historical reference, but some of the flowers in the background carry special meaning for Obama. The chrysanthe­mums, for example, reference the official flower of Chicago. The jasmine evokes Hawaii, where he spent the majority of his childhood, and the African blue lilies stand in for his late Kenyan father.

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