Official Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama

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Were a big shock to the art world with a hidden political message, hence the title “The Mystery of Amy Sherald’s Portrait of Michelle Obama.” The two artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, were chosen to be the Obama’s artists with careful selection since the portraits would be displayed among some of the most respected first ladies and presidents. There was much intensity within the portraits, along with strong visual statements. The author’s main point throughout the article is that Michelle Obama has overcome the many barriers of racism and inequality to achieve her success.

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Since Sherald and Wiley were chosen to be the painters of the Obamas’ portraits, it was essential for them to select artists who might not just mirror the change the Obamas conveyed to America, yet who might likewise join their legacy. Having similar foundations to the Obamas, Sherald and Wiley were “the first black recipients of commissions from the National Portrait Gallery”. In addition, Sherald’s work is known for her models being African American and chooses “her subjects for their ineffable quality of existing in the past, present, and future simultaneously.” The artist was also known for the method, “en grisaille,” a painting method that uses gray monochrome, which is typically used to imitate sculpture.

Given that, Michelle Obama is the first black First Lady she chooses to have a dress designed by Michelle Smith, she helped create a bold dress with geometric patterns which reminded Mrs. Obama of “the diligent quilt-making of the black women artists of Gee’s Bend, Alabama,” which captured her uniqueness and open-mindedness. Since the “first campaign she was scrutinized, even more than her husband . . . of all races, to be soft” she had to find a way to portray the inequality, the racial stereotypes and misconceptions that was happening and had happened within her portrait. The artist chose a certain pose for the First Lady, “Obama, looking askance, leaning slightly, may want to be a part of that record” is to depict a quiet defiance. The First Lady had a great influence and positively affected millions of people. She wants the people but “young black girls especially . . . to see her, through Sherald’s vision: as a herald of success.” Although the First Lady had many great years in the White House and made an immense significance in the world, “Michelle Obama is open about her relief that the eight years are over.” Beyond the paint and the canvas, the portrait is a bold political statement.

As was previously stated, the First Lady has overcome the obstacles of racism and economic inequality. The artist’s idea of using the muddled tones in her painting was to “exclude the idea of color as race,” to draw attention to how unimportant race is but with how racism still lives on in today’s society. Moreover, the gown designed by Michelle Smith was stunning but more so that the beauty of the dress is that it looks very chic and expensive but shows the indifference to luxury which “Obama herself emphasized that she did not come from the sort of family that had members sit for portraits.” It is a powerful reminder of an undeserved and underappreciated group in American society. The dress is a fashion but political statement as well. For instance, it went against the traditional ideas and highlighted the accomplishments of African American women and the growth of American culture since the days of slavery.

The dress made of cotton fabric, drew attention to enslavement. With the slave references in the dress and the portrait of a black woman being hung up in a building built by slaves symbolizes how we as a nation are perceiving and moving past its history of enslavement and racism. Also, the fact that we have elected our first president of color shows progress as well. Furthermore, the dress brings to light to the fact that American society has made a place for the first African American family in the White House but recognizes how they overcame the injustices and challenges to achieve greatness. The portrait is a marking of a new era in American history and emphasizes how she redefined the roles of the First Lady and modern African American women today to overcome the social injustices that come along their way. Amy Sherald brings the painting to life as an activist and made it so anyone regardless of race and or whichever barrier one may face can relate to the painting.

Ultimately, Michelle Obama’s portrait was not only a portrayal of how she rose above the barriers but how we all can her view her portrait in a self-reflected light. Amy Sherald helped the First Lady bring to life in a portrait the inequality and racism brought upon our society and although our country still struggles with both, the Obamas have made an important impact on the world and their legacy still thrives today.

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Official Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from

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