Watch: Unveiling of President and Mrs. Obama’s Portraits at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
February 12, 2021 9:00 AM
Three years ago today, President and Mrs. Obama attended their official portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., joining other Presidents and First Ladies in the historic portrait collection. Learn more about the Black artists who created the portraits, which will be coming to the Chicago Art Institute in 2021!
February 12, 2018
Artists Kehinde Wiley of Brooklyn, NY, and Amy Sherald of Baltimore, MD, were selected to paint President Obama and Mrs. Obama respectively, becoming the first African American artists to create Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former President and First Lady.
“I’m thinking about all of the young people, particularly girls, and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place, and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know about the impact it’ll have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.” —@MichelleObama with her portrait artist Amy Sherald at the unveiling of the #ObamaPortraits
Take a look at the historic portraits:
Read the email President Obama sent to Obama Foundation subscribers reflecting on the presidential portrait unveiling:
Today, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became the first black artists to create official, Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former President and First Lady.
And Michelle and I joined our distinguished predecessors and thousands of our fellow Americans on the walls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
To call this experience humbling would be an understatement.
That’s because, as a former president, when you choose an artist to describe your likeness, you have the opportunity to shape, quite literally, how someone sees the office of the American presidency. And how they might see themselves in that presidency.
Kehinde Wiley and I share some things in common. Both of us had an American mother who raised us, an African father who was absent from our lives, and a search to figure out just where we fit in. I wrote a book about that journey, because I can’t paint. But I suspect a lot of Kehinde’s journey is reflected in his art. I was struck by the way his portraits challenge the way we view power and privilege; the way he endows his subjects, men and women often invisible in everyday life, with a level of dignity that not only makes them visible, but commands our attention.
The arts have always been central to the American experience. They provoke thought, challenge our assumptions, and shape how we define our narrative as a country.
Thanks to Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. These works upend the notion that there are worlds where African Americans belong and worlds where we don’t. And that’s something Michelle and I hope we contributed to over the eight years we were so privileged to serve you from the White House.
They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic.
And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.
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Watch the full unveiling ceremony: