Does Michelle Obama's Official Portrait Gown Have a Hidden Meaning?

Posted February 14, 2018

Kehinde Wiley, based in NY, made the green portrait of former President Obama while Amy Sherald, based in Baltimore (Maryland), made that of Michelle Obama.

Can you imagine for a second if George W. Bush, or any other former president, decided on a painter who was famous for depicting white people killing black people to paint his official portrait?

"Mrs. Obama, you exist in our minds and hearts in the way that you do because we can see ourselves in you", Sherald continued.

"He would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives and put them on a grand stage, on a grand scale, and force us to look and see them in ways that so often they were not", Obama said.

The artists, chosen by the Obamas, have combined traditional representation with elements that underscore the complexity of their subjects, and the historic fact of their political rise.

Art historian Paul Staiti says the Obama portraits - full of color and unique concepts - are fresh and exciting in a field of generally staid presidential portraiture. Sherald explained the archetypal nature of her work, emphasizing Mrs. Obama as a representative figure who will influence generations to come.

"Ok, now draw me like I'm sitting in a large hedge". It also echoes, she did not add, a 2012 painting she did of a woman in a full-length, quilt-paneled skirt, Equilibrium, which is owned by the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

Michelle is a great-great-granddaughter of slaves, a fact she always said in her eight years in the White House to demonstrate the hard progress of her ethnic group.

"Sherald's interpretation of Ms. Obama used a stylized gray hue to portray Black skin tones". "The modern silhouette of the dress perfectly reflects her forward-thinking sensibility, and I'm thrilled that I get to be a little part of what was such a ground-breaking an positive presidency". Her models are black, and they are creatures of fashion who stand upright against backdrops of pastel monochrome.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama's portait by Amy Sherald showed her wearing a colorful Monday Milly gown.

From the outset, the portraits have given much to talk about in the world of the arts because the Obamas personally chose, from among a score of artists, those who would capture their images on the canvas.

If anyone was in doubt about Obama's extreme political leanings before, hopefully his choice of Wiley to paint his official portrait clarifies the matter for good.

"What I choose to do is to take people who happen to look like me - black and brown people all over the world, increasingly - and to allow them to occupy that field of power", Wiley told CNN. It's true that the two look similar aesthetically, but it's far more likely that Beyoncé was influenced by Wiley's work, not the other way around.