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:

Senate Panel To Hold Hearing On Sexual Abuse Of Olympic Athletes

The scandal prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics and the president and athletic director of Michigan State University to resign. It also spawned lawsuits and criminal and civil investigations.


(Reuters) — The U.S. Senate will hold a hearing next week into how the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and other sports organizations handled sexual misconduct allegations.

Read More Show Less

Actors' Union Calls for End to Meetings in Private Hotel Rooms

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement posted on the union's website, "We are committed to addressing the scenario that has allowed predators to exploit performers behind closed doors under the guise of a professional meeting."


(Reuters) — The United States' largest actors' union on Thursday called for an end to auditions and professional meetings in private hotel rooms and residences to protect its members from "potential harassment or exploitation."

Read More Show Less

Stephens Serves Up Tennis to Inner City Youth

"We have to go into communities that are underprivileged and under-served and introduce tennis to them," Stephens said.


(Reuters) — U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens on Thursday unveiled refurbished tennis courts at a school in impoverished Compton, Calif., the latest in an ongoing effort by the African American player to expand the reach of the sport to minorities.

Read More Show Less

Why Jay-Z Told David Letterman Some Good Has Come from the Trump Presidency

Duo tackles effect of administration in an episode of Letterman's Netflix series.


Hip-hop icon and businessman Jay-Z sat down with former late night host David Letterman where he referred to the presidency as "actually a great thing."

Read More Show Less

White Candidate for State House: ‘I’m a Member of the African American Community’

"I've eaten at many a fish fry held by my 'brothers' and 'sisters,' 'aunts' and 'uncles' in that community," Shipman said in his defense. "I was born a poor Black child," said Steve Martin in "The Jerk."

A Democrat hailing from North Carolina hoping to join the state House claims that he is a part of the African American community.

"I'm a member of the African American community," said Gary Shipman on Sunday. "I've been where you are. I've been in your communities."

Read More Show Less