Want a definition of coolness? Then you need to see Michelle and Barack Obama’s presidential portraits

The US Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery yesterday unveiled the portraits of former US president, Barack Obama and his first lady, Michelle. 


Recall that we reported last year that Barack commissioned Kehinde Wiley, who has a  Nigerian father, to paint his presidential portrait. Michelle’s portrait was painted by Ann Sherald, a black American artist from Baltimore.


The Obamas are the first African-American president and first lady to have their portraits hang in the Smithsonian gallery. Wiley and Sherald are also the first African-American artists to paint official presidential portraits.

Barack’s portrait was bold and colourful, and his peculiar thoughtful and engaging gaze is not lost to the observer even as he sits on a chair amidst colourful leaves.

Michelle’s portrait, on the other hand, is austere. We see the former first lady in grayscale against a light blue background. Interestingly, her nails are also painted blue. Perhaps a nod to the 2012 Democratic National Convention where she showed up with blue-grey nails?



The two paintings are contrasting when viewed side by side. Yet, it’s easy to feel the aura of intelligence, poise, elegance and especially coolness emanating from both paintings.

I’m also thinking of all the young people, particularly girls and girls of colour, who … will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” Michelle Obama says as the portraits were unveiled.

I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls,” she adds.


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