Whenever a former president and first lady leave office, it isn’t long before they have official portraits commissioned specifically for the purpose of being displayed in the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery.
Obama’s portrait featured the ex-president seated in a wooden chair in front of a backdrop of green leaves and flowers that seemed poised to envelop him and the chair, as if he were in an overgrown garden of some sort.
The portrait was painted by an artist named Kehinde Wiley, who has now become the first black artist to paint an official presidential portrait for the Gallery.
?? Former US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stand before their portraits and respective artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, after an unveiling #Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery #Washington ? @saulloeb #AFP pic.twitter.com/iTno9p59lZ
— AFP Photo (@AFPphoto) February 12, 2018
According to The New York Times, Obama specifically chose Wiley as his painter in October of 2017, after Obama reviewed portfolios of the work of nearly 20 different artists.
Wiley’s claim to fame is adapting classic pieces of artwork to the modern-day by imposing young “urban” men and women in regal poses against bold backgrounds.
One such example noted by The Times is that of a painting of late singer Michael Jackson atop a horse, meant to resemble the classic portrait of Spain’s King Phillip II mounted on a white charger with a great battle scene in the background.
But there are other pieces of Wiley’s that have been adapted and modernized from the classics that are a bit less absurd and definitely more grim, particularly one which seems to advocate for racial violence.
According to The Daily Caller, Wiley has produced two similar paintings that purport to spin off the tale of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes, a story found in the Book of Judith.
In that story — part of the Catholic Bible proper but considered apocrypha by Protestants — a Jewish woman named Judith seduced and then beheaded an Assyrian general named Holofernes who was set to destroy her people — a story that has been told through classic artwork on numerous occasions in the past.
But in Wiley’s version, Judith is a black woman instead of Hebrew, and the decapitated head of Holofernes is not that of a male Assyrian general, but instead is that of a dead white woman.
As acolytes of the former president are quick to remind us, Obama was supposed to have bridged the racial divide in this country with his election. Unfortunately, his tenure in office only served to broaden that gap and leave racial tensions even worse than they were prior to his entering the White House.
The fact that he specifically chose an artist to paint his official portrait who has in the past depicted a proud black woman holding aloft the severed head of a white woman will do nothing to alleviate that perception — and could conceivably make things worse.
Imagine for a moment the outcry from the left if President Trump were to commission a portrait of himself from an artist known for painting white people holding the severed heads of black people.
I think we already know how that would go.
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