Obama Portraits Unveiled At National Portrait Gallery

The official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Both are the work of African-American artists, known for their portraits of people of color.

Kehinde Wiley painted the portrait for President Obama. The former president said he felt an instant connection to Wiley, who like him was raised by an American mother and had an African father missing from the picture. He said he was impressed by Wiley's ability to re-imagine images of power and privilege. The portrait is set amongst a backdrop of flowers, which according to The Hill, all have symbolic meanings. 

The chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, where he began his political career. His childhood home of Hawaii is represented through jasmine, and African blue lilies serve as a nod to his late Kenyan-born father, Barack Obama, Sr.

Obama said he tried to convince Wiley to tone back the gray hair.

"I tried to negotiate less gray hair," he said. "I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well."

Amy Sherald was commissioned to paint the portrait of Michelle Obama. Sherald said she wanted the "painting to show "a message of humanity."

"What you represent to this country is an ideal: a human being with integrity, intellect, confidence, and compassion," Sherald said of Michelle Obama. The artist said she aspired through her painting to show "a message of humanity."

Michelle Obama said she was excited to know that in the future girls of color will be able "see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution."

She said that she was especially touched that "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."

President Obama's portrait will be added to the "America's Presidents" exhibition, and Michelle's will be featured in another gallery. 

Photo: Getty Images

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