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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Obama portraits

A lot has been made of the official portrait of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley:

You've probably heard a lot of opinions about the flowery background, the expression on Obama's face, the "hidden sperm" controversy (to me, it's neither provable nor disprovable), and how Wiley may not actually paint the paintings, even though he takes credit for them.

You've probably also heard about the other works by Wiley, which include paintings of a black woman holding a decapitated white woman's head:

It's barely worth mentioning what would happen if the races were reversed in the case, as such examples are so numerous and so obvious, and have been for a long time.

Kathy Griffin got into big trouble for a similar "work of art," but it's doubtful that Wiley will end up in similar hot water.

What nobody seems to have mentioned so far is how Amy Sherald whitened her official portrait of Michelle Obama, to the point where she is unrecognizable:

Sherald has given Michelle a narrower nose and less prognathous face. She has also made Michelle's eyes less close set, though that trait is less a function of race. For purposes of comparison, here's the real Michelle:

Amy Sherald herself is light-skinned --

-- and historically, light-skinned blacks have often had a sometimes querulous relationship with their darker-skinned brethren. That Sherald effectively made Michelle Obama look as if she would pass the brown paper bag test in her official portrait is telling.

What does that say about Sherald's attitudes toward beauty and attractiveness? And how badly would a white artist have been excoriated for making those changes?


Not Dave said...

I had also noticed the painting of Michelle. Had I not known it was of her I wouldn't have known it was supposed to be her. It's no Rembrandt. Actually it looks pretty amateur and am surprised Michelle didn't reject it because of that.

Barack, on the other hand, sitting in a field of pot, or is that ivy, its just weird. And amateur.

Both "portraits" throw away tradition, et al, of the position they held which is fitting for them. He apologized for America, bowing to foreign leaders while she spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for vacations and clothes while Americans suffered in a down economy. Their actions during those 8 years didn't show they cared about America. So go ahead and make a mockery of the tradition of the official portraits.


John Craig said...

Not Dave --
Those aren't marijuana leaves behind Barack. But they do appear to be Photoshopped:

Yes, these portraits do seem to encapsulate the Obama administration in a lot of ways.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't impressed by Obama and his wife and I'm not liking the portraits. They look like they were painted by a second rate artist.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
They were, though I'd still rate either of those artists ahead of any modern artist.

purpletigerbot said...

This Twitter thread hints that the African artist just runs an assembly line art factory in Beijing. Just curious what percentage of the artwork was actually painted by the artist. Should Zhang and Ping also be given some credit, and this be hailed as the future of harmonious Sino-African collaboration?

John Craig said...

Purpletigerbot --
I heard the same, that his paintings are "based on his sketches." That, and the fact that so many of the leaves in the background were obviously Photoshopped, leaves me less than wed at his artistry. Of course, he's not the only artist who does that, I've head of a few others who basically take credit for their assistants' work.

Not Dave said...


I know the green behind/around him is not marijuana, sarcasm doesn't come across well in written words. While writing that I was recalling a photo of Barack smoking a joint back in his college (if he actually did attend college, has that been established?) days.

Rembrandt was mentioned because I marvel at his work every time I see it. George Washington's official portrait in the Smithsonian, classic. Done by someone (Gilbert Stuart) who knew the importance of history and the position held. We've lost all that in the awful portraits presented to us most recently.

John Craig said...

Dave --
Oops, sorry, you're right, sarcasm isn't always obvious on the page. But I should have realized that as an LEO, you'd know what marijuana looks like.

Gilbert Stuart was a great artist, I agree.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much white ancestry Ms. Sherald has. Along with her light skin her first name is, to be blunt, a white girl's name. You just don't see a lot of black women named Amy.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Judging from the picture above, and other pictures I saw of her, I'd guess about half.

Keep in mind, she was born in 1973, a time in which today's more distinctively black-sounding names hadn't really caught hold yet.

Shaun F said...

Obama's portrait is an affirmative action portrait and deserves a knee!