368 days after his Toledo visit, Kehinde Wiley debuts Barack Obama portrait

. February 12, 2018.

On February 9, 2017, Kehinde Wiley spoke to locals about his solo exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic.

Today— exactly 368 days after his visit to Toledo for a Masters Series Lecture at the TMA— Wiley joined artist Amy Sherald in debuting the official Obama portrait in The National Portrait Gallery’s long-term “America’s Presidents” display.

Like the former president, Wiley, and his portrait of Mr. Obama, stand out.


Vibrant, colorful and regal, Wiley’s ode to the first Black president follows the artist’s history of depicting African-American men in the style of old-master European royalty. Mr. Obama looks self-assured, cool, calm and collected— alert and personable, but without his famous smile.

Just as Mr. Obama chose Wiley to portray him, Michelle Obama also chose a big-name, Black artist: Amy Sherald.


The Baltimore artist’s vision of Mrs. Obama continues Sherald’s method of figurative painting that blends realism with a sharp style.

Like Wiley, Sherald also nods to art historical narratives to make a social and political point about contemporary African-American men and women. Where Sherald focuses on issues of race and identity in the American South, Wiley has an international approach and draws upon a deeper art history.

In an interview with the Toledo City Paper, Kehinde Wiley’s Twin Desires: Clearing Space and Building A New Republic at The Toledo Museum of Art, Wiley said:

“… The heart of intentionality and the project of portraiture within Western European easel painting… has a lot to do with dignity and pride— but it also has to do with the type of narrative of domination, ownership, and land… What I do is take advantage of the narrative and vocabulary that was set up hundreds of years ago. I use those words to make new sentences and set up new possibilities for people— in particular, the individuals that haven’t necessarily historically peopled those images. I’m able to carve out new fields of providence for black and brown people, people who look like me.”

See more about the unveiling of these important commissioned portraits of former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama in this video from the Smithsonian: