Black Excellence: The Obamas Selected Kehinde Wiley And Amy Sherald To Paint Their Official Portraits


October 15, 2017


Photo credit: Kwaku Alston/Essence 

Dream roll, please! 


On Friday, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery announced that New York’s Kehinde Wiley and Baltimore’s Amy Sherald will paint the museum’s official portraits of the first African American President and First Lady of the United States. The two were selected by Barack and Michelle Obama, and as a result, according to The Wall Street Journal, are now the first Black artists to be commissioned to paint a presidential couple for the National Portrait Gallery. 

Wiley is a trailblazing artist known for implementing western ideals of style in his hyperrealist portraits of urban Black and brown men against floral backgrounds. 

Photo via: Kehinde Wiley 


“Over the course of his career, Wiley, whom President Obama selected, has frequently portrayed young African American men wearing the latest in hip-hop street fashion. His rich, highly saturated color palette and his use of decorative patterns complement his realistic, yet expressive, likenesses. The theatrical poses and props Wiley assigns to his subjects make references to iconic portraits of powerful figures by Western artists,” said the Smithsonian in a press release.

Sherald, who made history last year as the first African American and first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, is known for using gray skin tones for her subjects, as well as painting cultured portraits of Black women. According to the Smithsonian, “Sherald challenges stereotypes and probes notions of identity through her life-size paintings of African Americans.” 

Photo by: Ryan Stevenson


The museum has been teaming up with the White House at the end of each presidency since George H.W. Bush to commission portraits of former Presidents and First Ladies; two sets of official portraits are created, one for the White House and the other for the National Portrait Gallery. 

The portraits are set to be revealed in early 2018. 

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