Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Monday morning.
The former president’s portrait was painted by artist Kehinde Wiley, and the former First Lady chose Baltimore artist Amy Sherald for hers. Wiley and Sherald are the first two African-American artists to ever be commissioned to paint presidential portraits for the museum.
In his portrait, the 44th president is depicted seated against a green floral background in a black suit and white shirt. The flowers in the painting are supposed to represent important places from the president’s life: Chicago, Hawaii, and Kenya. During his remarks at the unveiling, President Obama explained why he chose Wiley to paint his portrait.
“What I was always struck by whenever I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege,” said President Obama, “and the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives, and put them on a grand stage, a grand scale, and force us to look and see them in ways that so often they were not. “
In her remarks, the former first lady — whose portrait shows her seated in a long, colorful dress against a pale blue background — said she hopes her depiction will inspire young women.
“I’m also thinking about all of the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” she said. “I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of their girls, and when I think about those future generations and generations past, I think, ‘Wow, wow, what an incredible journey we are on together in this country. We have come so far.’ And yes, as we see today, we still have a lot more work to do, but we have every reason to be hopeful and proud. And I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to stand alongside my husband and play a very small part in that history and in that future.”
Check out their portraits below:
A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay, comedian Chris Rock, and Lip Sync Battle host Chrissy Teigen were among some the celebrities who praised the paintings on Twitter. “Monday morning joy as portraits of President and First Lady Obama are revealed by artist Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley,” tweeted DuVernay. Meanwhile, Rock joked that President Obama is the real Black Panther, and Teigen begged the first couple to “come back” and “help us.”
Check out more reactions below: