Obama Presidential Portraits a Nod to Diversity, Inclusion in Art
"The ability to be the first African American painter, to paint the first African American president of the United States … It doesn't get any better than that," artist Kehinde Wiley said.
The image of President Barack Obama reflected in an official portrait created by Kehinde Wiley was revealed on Monday. Wiley's works celebrate the Black community by taking his own spin on Eurocentric paintings.
The New York-based artist uses his Yale University training to create a twist on European-style classical artwork. In his portraits, which have been the subjects of exhibitions worldwide, Wiley takes the heroes of Old Masters paintings and depicts them as Black men and women.
"Growing up as a kid in South Central Los Angeles, going to the museums in L.A., there weren't too many people that happened to look like me in those museums, on those walls," Wiley said at the portrait unveiling.
He explained that portraiture in museums is "whom we as a society decide to celebrate, this is our humanity," he said.
"The ability to be the first African American painter, to paint the first African American president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming. It doesn't get any better than that."
In the portrait, Obama is surrounded by chrysanthemums, the official flower of his adopted home, Chicago; African blue lilies representing Kenya, his father's birthplace; and jasmine for Hawaii, Obama's birthplace.
Wiley explained that the flowers tell Obama's narrative yet compete with his persona.
"Who gets to be the star of the show?" Wiley said. "The story, or the man who inhabits the story?"
The artist creates massive paintings, some 9 feet tall, with bold colors to further explore themes of race and gender.
Wiley, the first Black gay man to be commissioned by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery to paint an official portrait, talked about his sexuality in a 2015 New York Times interview.
"I'm a gay man who has occasionally drifted," he said. "I am not bi. I've had perfectly pleasant romances with women, but they weren't sustainable. My passion wasn't there."
His portrait of Obama will reside in the Smithsonian's permanent "America's Presidents" exhibition. It is not the portrait that will hang in the White House. The White House Historical Association commissions those paintings of U.S. presidents.
Artist Amy Sherald, the first Black woman commissioned to paint a portrait for the gallery, created the image of First Lady Michelle Obama. The Baltimore-native became the first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait competition in 2016. Sherald was also recently awarded the High Museum of Art's David Driskell Prize.
Sherald is known for stylized, non-traditional portraits of Black women. Obama's dress, inspired by a cotton poplin dress in Michelle Smith's spring 2017 Milly collection, has a political message. Smith said she was inspired by "desire for equality, equality in human rights, racial equality, LGBTQ equality" that season, according to The Washington Post.
Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama will be on display through early November 2018.
The Obamas reviewed the portfolios of more than two dozen artists before deciding on Wiley and Sherald.
Watch a video of the portrait unveiling:
The Obamas attend the unveiling of their official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in D.C. https://t.co/GdegTw3edz
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 12, 2018
"We shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed," Obama said of McCain.
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Trump's administration, again, attempts to downplay the accomplishments of the first Black president.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted Tuesday evening on Twitter that she gave false information when attempting to tout President Trump's record on job creation for Black Americans.
Sanders told reporters, Tuesday, during a White House press briefing:
"This president, since he took office, created 700,000 new jobs for African-Americans. After eight years of President Obama in office, he only created 195,000 jobs for African-Americans. President Trump, in his first year and a half, has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years."
She greatly undercounted the number of jobs created under Obama.
According to the official count from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the Great Recession, most of the employment gains for Black people took place during the Obama administration.
From January 2009 to January 2017, Obama increased employment for Black Americans by about 3 million jobs.
"Sanders' error dramatically alters the comparison between the two presidents," according to PolitiFact.
"Rather than Trump tripling Obama's increase in African-American employment, it is actually Obama who in eight years quadrupled the increase Trump oversaw in a year and a half. And Obama had to deal with the fall-out from the Great Recession during that period."
After the backlash from Sanders' statement, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) said in a tweet: "Apologies for @WhiteHouseCEA's earlier miscommunication to @PressSec."
Sanders then re-tweeted the CEA, adding her own message:
Correction from today's briefing: Jobs numbers for Pres Trump and Pres Obama were correct, but the time frame for Pres Obama wasn't. I'm sorry for the mistake, but no apologies for the 700,000 jobs for African Americans created under President Trump https://t.co/EXGvbliwlS
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) August 15, 2018
"I want people to walk away having a clear view of what this country is about right now, and not what they thought it is," said Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother.
"Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story," a six-episode unscripted series devoted to the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, made its world premiere on Monday on the Paramount Network and BET.
The first Black president of the United States gave a rousing tribute to the first Black president of South Africa to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Russian intelligence officers saw opportunity in racial tensions within the U.S.
President Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday and did not hold Putin accountable for Russia's role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on Friday. The indictment paperwork also indicated the exploitation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Students and schools reject history of hate.
Richmond's J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School, named after a Confederate general, decided on using the name of the nation's first Black president as their break from hateful history's grip.
We have never heard of a law enforcement officer post such an extreme level of racist remarks against African Americans, Muslims, Jews and women," wrote intelligence director Everett Stern.
When Michelle Obama was in the White House as the first Black first lady of the United States, Palm Beach County, Fla., Sheriff's Deputy Jason Van Dusen used social media to compare her to an ape. In a tweet the following year, Van Dusen posted a meme of a white man smiling with the caption: "Laughs in White Privilege."
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The latest nonsense was expected by everyone reading what she has been writing — but, as Maya Angelou warned us, you have to believe people when they tell you who they are.