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Obama's portrait artist painted black women decapitating white women

14 February 2018

Artist Amy Sherald created Michelle Obama's portrait, in which she wears a custom geometric halter dress designed by Michelle Smith, the creative director at Milly.

There has been some criticism, especially on social media, that the portraits are odd, and that Sherald's painting doesn't particularly look like Michelle Obama. Kehinde lifted them up, and gave them a platform, and said they belonged at the center of American life. Sherald also painted the first lady sitting, and much of our impression of Mrs. Obama has to do with her stature and impeccable posture. An official portrait of Michelle Obama was also revealed at the same event.

Ben Shapiro, of the Daily Wire, was even more pointed in his criticism-captioning a piece of abstract art with, "LOVE the new portrait of Michelle Obama".

Barack and Michelle Obama have attended the unveiling of their official portraits at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

Like most of Sherald's work, her interpretation of Mrs. Obama is soft and nearly dreamlike (many have criticized Sherald's portrayal as having little resemblance to the first lady).

"She bent down and looked at them and said, 'I painted this for you so that when you go to a museum you will see someone who looks like you on the wall, '" Moss recalled after seeing Sherald speak to young African-American girls at a gallery talk.

"I'm thinking of all the girls of colour who will come and see someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American Institution", said the former U.S. first lady.

It doesn't take #BlackLivesMatter consciousness to see the significance of this racial lineup within the national story as told by the Portrait Gallery.

Valerie Mercer, curator of African American art at the DIA says she isn't concerned with the facial detail on Sherald's painting because art is about an artist's impression of reality.

The Washington Post caught up with Smith, who started Milly with her husband, Andy Oshrin, just after the portrait viewing.

Others joked that the television show The Simpsons inspired Mr Obama's portrait. This acknowledges the hard work African-Americans have made in this country in the past, while giving us a more hopeful future.

Most previous presidential portrait painters kept to a common color scheme, rich in neutrals - black, brown, grey or beige with perhaps a shock of red tie or blue sky here and there.

On Twitter, reactions to the portraits quickly poured in - with a mixture of admiration and mockery. "'I've got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon, '" he said with a laugh.

"Sherald's interpretation of Ms. Obama used a stylized gray hue to portray Black skin tones". Every four to eight years, a couple of new presidential portraits appear at the National Portrait Gallery, memorializing the likes of George W. and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and so forth.

Obama's portrait artist painted black women decapitating white women