The Obama Portraits Drew a Strong Reaction. What Did They Mean to You?

The Obama Portraits Drew a Strong Reaction. What Did They Mean to You?


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At left, the portrait of Mr. Obama by Kehinde Wiley, and the portrait of Mrs. Obama by Amy Sherald.

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Left, Kehinde Wiley; right, Amy Sherald

Typically, an official presidential portrait unveiling at National Portrait Gallery might be a ho-hum affair, even with the traditional pomp and circumstance. Not so for former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Monday.

The paintings — Mr. Obama’s by Kehinde Wiley and Mrs. Obama’s by Amy Sherald — elicited strong reactions for their striking use of colors and the backgrounds in which the Obamas were set.

They are not in an office, sitting at a desk or standing in front of a row of books. The background for Mr. Obama’s painting is not a dark, solid color, but rather a lush bed of bright green leaves, with his chair almost suspended in midair. Mrs. Obama is painted against a bright-blue background, and she is wearing a vibrant dress.

It was a “strikingly different” approach by the two artists, according to the Times’s co-chief art critic Holland Cotter. The artists themselves, both African-American, have a history of tackling race issues — surely adding to the context with each the paintings were completed.

Now, we want to hear your thoughts. What did the portraits mean to you, particularly if you are African-American or of African descent? Did their aesthetic remind you of other artwork and what did you think of Mr. Wiley and Ms. Sherald’s approach to bucking tradition? What do you think the artists were trying to convey — and do you think they were successful? Did they capture the Obamas and their legacy accurately?

Post your answers in the comment section. We may use some of the responses in an upcoming article. .

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