Nigerian-American artist’s official presidential portrait of Barack Obama is smashing

Keeping with the tradition of the presidents of America, the National Portrait Gallery has unveiled its official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Interestingly, the Obamas as usual, have put their touch different from those of past presidents like they have been wont to do. Barack Obama will be the first African American whose portrait will hang at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and that’s not the only interesting detail of this year’s event.

american president
Presidents Bush, Clinton. National Portrait Gallery.
Presidents Roosevelt, Truman. National Portrait Gallery.

Barack and Michelle Obama are lovers and supporters of art, especially supporting men and women of colour in their fashion statements or the contemporary art pieces hung in their homes, this, from the moment they entered the White House. The personality of former president of the United States is one that exudes humour, wit and the aura of one who is comfortable with walking bare-footed in the sand once in a while.

He showed this on various occasions when he dropped the mike, invariably becoming part of the meme culture, when he featured on The Tonight Show, slow jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon, and although he tried to negotiate less grey hair and smaller ears, artist Kehinde Wiley captured Obama’s affiliation to pop and African American culture, portraying him sitting on a chair that almost seems to float while a wall of faded green leaves and flowers decorated the background.  Although he missed out on Obama’s book of expressions as the 44th president wore quite a stern and direct look in his portrait, Kehinde’s painting will go down as one that is memorable among the presidents collection.


Obama portrait
Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. © 2018 Kehinde Wiley.

The artist is the first black American artists to be commissioned by the gallery for official portraits. Kehinde Wiley is a New York based artist, whose subjects are often young black men and women rendered against densely patterned backgrounds. Kehinde has a Nigerian heritage as his father is Yoruba.

Kehinde Wiley,
Kehinde Wiley,