by WorldTribune Staff, February 13, 2018
The artist who created the official portrait of former President Barack Obama that was unveiled on Feb. 12 at the Smithsonian in past works depicted black women decapitating white women.
Kehinde Wiley, the first African American to paint an official presidential portrait, also created two works in 2012 depicting the Biblical story of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes.
“Judith and Holofernes is from Wiley’s most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects,” a 2012 explanation of the work from the North Carolina Museum of Art foundation reads. “Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”
The explanation continues: “This new rendition can be interpreted on many different levels, including racial and gender identity and inequity, the representation of women throughout art history, and society’s ideals for beauty.”
Wiley said of the work: “I am painting women in order to come to terms with the depictions of gender within the context of art history. One has to broaden the conversation . . . This series of works attempts to reconcile the presence of black female stereotypes that surrounds their presence and/or absence in art history, and the notions of beauty, spectacle, and the ‘grand’ in painting.”
The portrait of President Obama by Wiley, and the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald, were unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Feb. 12.
New York Times art critic Holland Cotter commented that Michelle Obama’s portrait face was too far removed from her actual one.
“To be honest, I was anticipating – hoping for – a bolder, more incisive image of the strong-voiced person I imagine this former first lady to be,” Cotter wrote.
“You can actually see Barack Obama do a ‘yikes, that’s awful’ double take looking at Michelle Obama’s portrait, then back at his cool one,” one Twitter user wrote.