Eagerly anticipated by #manhattanmodernist since the announcement of the artist selections, we have waited patiently. With yesterday’s unveiling of the Obamas’ portraits, (see here) it is not just the uniqueness of the commission, but the achievement of all, both artists and subjects. This is undisputedly a momentous occasion. Respect to Barak and Michelle Obama for their selection and kudos to the artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, for their original and refreshing approaches, with nods to history, heritage and legacy.
To mix a few of Lin-Manauel Miranda’s hip hop references (from Hamilton) “And if ya don’t know, now ya know,” the Obamas selected well, even brilliantly, with artists who sourced humanity and vulnerability whilst elevating their subjects, distilling an essence and imbuing it with nobility and context. All four have rightfully secured a place in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, on our walls and in our consciousness, not just for this generation, but for generations to come. And by default, “history has its eyes on you”.
The trailblazing is not to be underestimated. Each was given a voice at the unveiling, a not insignificant detail, and Michelle Obama summed up the importance of “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. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”
Not to mention the kind of impact this will have on the lives of the artists, who with these momentous commissions, have rightly secured not only their ideal patrons, and sold-out collections, but deservedly have achieved places for themselves in history. An unprecedented landmark moment, stunningly immortalized, for all of us to celebrate.