Obamas’ of­fi­cial por­traits un­veiled

Ottawa Citizen - - CLASSIFIED - AshrAf KhAlil

WASH­ING­TON • When Barack Obama speaks, peo­ple lis­ten. At least they did when he was in the White House. But that kind of author­ity didn’t hold much sway when it came time for his pres­i­den­tial por­trait.

At a cer­e­mony Mon­day to un­veil por­traits of him and for­mer first lady Michelle Obama, the for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent said artist Ke­hinde Wi­ley cheer­fully ig­nored al­most all of his sug­ges­tions.

“He lis­tened very thought­fully to what I had to say be­fore do­ing ex­actly what he al­ways in­tended to do,” he said. “I tried to ne­go­ti­ate less grey hair but Ke­hinde’s artis­tic in­tegrity would not al­low it. I tried to ne­go­ti­ate smaller ears and struck out on that as well.”

Wi­ley has set Obama against a bower of what looks like ground cover. From the green­ery sprout flow­ers that have sym­bolic mean­ing for the sub­ject. African blue lilies rep­re­sent Kenya, his fa­ther’s birth­place; jas­mine stands for Hawaii, where Obama him­self was born; chrysan­the­mums, the of­fi­cial flower of Chicago, ref­er­ence the city where his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer be­gan, and where he met his wife.

Obama is sit­ting in a chair, lean­ing for­ward and look­ing se­ri­ous.

Michelle Obama’s por­trait, painted by Amy Sher­ald, shows her in a black and white dress look­ing thought­ful with her hand on her chin.

Both artists were per­son­ally cho­sen by the Obamas.

The por­traits will now hang in the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, which is part of the Smith­so­nian group of mu­se­ums. The gallery has a com­plete col­lec­tion of pres­i­den­tial por­traits. A dif­fer­ent set of por­traits of the for­mer first cou­ple will even­tu­ally hang in the White House.

“I am hum­bled, I am hon­oured, I am proud,” Michelle Obama said. “Young peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly girls and girls of colour, in fu­ture years they will come to this place and see some­one who looks like them hang­ing on the walls of this in­cred­i­ble in­sti­tu­tion.”

Barack Obama spoke of his choice of Wi­ley, say­ing the two men shared mul­ti­ple par­al­lels in their up­bring­ing; both had African fa­thers who were largely ab­sent from their lives and Amer­i­can moth­ers who raised them.

The for­mer pres­i­dent drew mul­ti­ple laughs for his re­marks, start­ing out by prais­ing Sher­ald for cap­tur­ing, “the grace and beauty and charm and hot­ness of the woman that I love.”

Obama said he found sit­ting for the por­trait to be a frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I don’t like pos­ing. I get im­pa­tient and start look­ing at my watch,” he said, “but work­ing with Ke­hinde was a great joy.”

Barack Obama’s por­trait will be in­stalled, long-term, among those of his pres­i­den­tial peers, in a ded­i­cated space on the sec­ond floor. Michelle Obama’s will hang in a cor­ri­dor re­served for tem­po­rary dis­plays of new ac­qui­si­tions — on the first floor. It will stay there un­til Novem­ber, af­ter which there’s no place for it to land.

The of­fi­cial por­traits of for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Barack Obama and for­mer first lady Michelle Obama were un­veiled at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Wash­ing­ton D.C., on Mon­day. “I tried to ne­go­ti­ate smaller ears and struck out,” the for­mer pres­i­dent joked at the un­veil­ing cer­e­mony.


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