Obama portraits on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

By Mariya Murrow

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ATLANTA (WGCL) — Portraits of Obama have arrived at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as part of a year-long five-city tour of major cities across the country.

The iconic artwork, which has attracted millions of art admirers since its unveiling in 2018, offers a contemporary take on what has always been a traditional presidential portrait.

But the exhibition is more than two canvases in a large room. The High Museum tells the stories of the black artists who captured the Obamas in ways the world has never seen before.

Georgia native and Clark University-Atlanta alum Amy Sherald is the face behind Michelle Obama’s iconic six-foot-tall painting, which captures the former first lady in a flowing, colorful dress reminiscent of Gee’s Bend quilts. . His skin, notably painted in grayscale, is not only a response to early portraits of African Americans, but also reminds viewers of the absence of black people in the history of large-scale photography. Sherald’s approach is to challenge his viewer to look beyond superficial racial differences.

During her initial unveiling, the former first lady said:

“I think of all the young people, especially girls and girls of color, who in the years to come will come here and they’ll look up and they’ll see a picture of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact it will have on their lives because I was one of those girls and when I think of those future and past generations, I think, again, wow.

The seven-foot-tall portrait of Barack Obama, portrayed by Los Angeles native Kehinde Wiley, shows the president seated in front of a lush green backdrop with distinct flowers appearing throughout the painting. But, as the exhibition shows, the work of art is more than it seems.

For Wiley, the portrait tells a story. The jasmine flower refers to Hawai’i, where the former president was born. African blue lilies; a tribute to Obama’s father who was originally from Kenya. Vibrant chrysanthemums are on display as the official flower of Chicago, Michelle and Barack’s meeting place and the city where his political career took off.

Wiley’s take on Obama celebrates true contemporary art while acknowledging tradition. The vivid backdrop juxtaposed with a majestic pose and historic wooden chair emphasizes an approach to portraiture suited to the modern era.

The High Museum’s Wieland family curator of modern and contemporary art, Michael Rooks, says he hopes people will see themselves in both the artwork of the Obamas and the stories of the artists who have brought it to them. gave life.

“I hope people walk away with the idea that portraiture is alive and well and is especially relevant today, especially when you think about artists of color and the subjects reflected in their work. our room here in Atlanta, in the black city of Georgia, it’s important that people see themselves reflected in what we show within our walls and I think that’s what was important for curators as well, ”said Rooks .

The Obamas’ portraits will be at the High Museum of Art from January 14 to March 20 before heading to their next destination at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Due to high demand for this exhibition, an exhibition-specific ticket is required for all visitors.

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