Today, on president Abraham Lincoln's birthday (209!) former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were present at the unveiling of their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. D.C. Both portraits were done by African American artists: Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama, and Kehinde Wiley painted the president.
Wiley, who is just 40, is an African American artist known internationally for his portraits of mostly young, urban black men depicted in mythical or grand historical settings; the works command major blue chip prices and have gained popular appeal as well as critical praise. Obama explained his artist selection, “What I was always struck by when I saw [Wiley's] portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege.”
Sherald, 44, is Baltimore-based and represented in Chicago by monique meloche gallery. Michelle Obama said of Sherald's role in painting her portrait that she will have a lasting influence on “Girls and girls of color. They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on these lives because I was one of those girls.” On Febraury 8 Sherald was named the winner of the 2018 David C. Driskell Prize, which honors artists for their contributions to African American art.
You can read more about the portrait unveling at NPR.org
You can view the unveiling below via the Washington Post. Also hear from both artists how they felt about meeting the challenge of such a unique and historic commission.