Well, the portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have been unveiled to a host of online mockery. First, seeing President Obama sitting against a wall of vines that are growing up his leg is… something. Then there’s Mrs. Obama’s portrait which looks like it came in third place at a junior high school art competition.
But as always with the Obamas, something more sinister is at foot. The artist chosen for the president’s portrait, Kehinde Wiley, has a history of painting white people decapitated by blacks. Note the similar floral backgrounds:
Wiley is also known for painting religious motifs of black men as Jesus or tattooed black men showing gang signs while they hold biblical texts. A Washington Post art critic gushed on Wiley, who is a homosexual, describing his work as having “a distinct homoerotic quality:”
Wiley, who has made portraits of LL Cool J, Michael Jackson and Notorious B.I.G., often skewers the pomp and grandiloquence of historical portraiture, painting his subjects in poses familiar from classic works by Napoleon’s propagandist, Jacque-Louis David, or Tiepolo or Peter Paul Rubens (Wiley depicted Jackson on horseback, wearing the armor of a Habsburg king, crowned by angelic flying figures). Many of his works, which engage with hip-hop culture, have a distinct homoerotic quality as well.
Obama seems to like his work and said so at the unveiling: "What I can say unequivocally, is that I am in awe of this artist’s gifts and what he has given to this country and to the world."
Here’s how Wiley described his presidential portrait:
It does not get any better than that. I was humbled by this invitation, but I was also inspired by Barack Obama’s personal story. That since in which he and I both do have that echo of single parents, African fathers, that search for the father, that sense of twinning. There is this echo of he and I in that narrative. When you look at this painting, there is sure, an amazingly handsome man seated, but there's also botanicals that are going on there that nod towards his personal story. Chrysanthemums, the state flower of Chicago, Illinois. There's flowers that point toward Kenya, toward Hawaii. In a very symbolic way, what I am doing is charting his path on Earth through those plants that sort of weave their way. There is a fight going on between he and the foreground and the plants that are sort of trying to announce themselves underneath his feet. Who gets to be the star of the show, the story or the man who inhabits that story? It is all chance-driven. Mr. President, I thank you for giving me a chance and I thank you for giving this nation a chance to experience your splendor on a global scale.
As Grabien news noted, it sounds like Wiley is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of art.