Today, the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, where all past president’s portraits are displayed. While Michelle Obama’s portrait suffered from its own fair share of criticism, Barack Obama’s portrait reflected his presidency perfectly, as it was devoid of meaning and rife with scandal.
It didn’t take long for internet sleuths to look up the artist behind Obama’s “In the Bushes” portrait and discover that previous work by the artist, Kehinde Wiley, had previously painted a large portrait featuring a grotesque, and quite possibly racist, theme.
A strong looking black woman, also appearing in shrubbery like Barack Obama’s portrait, appears to be proudly holding the freshly severed head of a white woman for no apparent reason, as if the only reason for the beheading was a difference in skin color since that is the most obvious distinction between the two women portrayed in the painting.
A description of Wiley’s artwork is as follows:
This art piece “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” 2012, Kehinde Wiley, places Women of Color, specifically a Black woman in a position of power (and majesty). This is so important because of the racism and sexism that Women of Color have historically and continue to face today. (Not to mention other WOC who face marginalization because of other facets of their identity; SES, Queerness, Ability, trauma(s) in addition to this- the list goes on).
What a shock, as I could have sworn the artwork was suppose to improve race relations and show how great all races can get along with each other when thoughts of skin color are put aside.
Such is the nature of art that the artist expresses specific messages that may hold special meaning to them in their artwork. If this is the case in Kehinde Wiley’s piece depicting the beheading of a white woman by a strong black woman, then one can only wonder the message he was trying to express.
Considering the description mentions the “racism and sexism” that women of color face today, I’d imagine the artwork is a depiction of an “oppressed” woman of color conquering the evil white woman by beading her, and triumphantly holding her severed head as a trophy of her “victory” over oppression.
Barack Obama stated that he chose Wiley as the artist for his portrait because he felt an “immediate connection” to him.
Barack said he felt an immediate connection with Wiley as well as similarities, both had American mothers and absent African fathers. He described Wiley’s artistic eye as one that challenges “our conventional views of power and privilege.”
One can’t help but wonder, if President Donald Trump ends up choosing a white artist who had a previous work of art depicting a white woman with the head of a black woman in one hand with a knife in the other, would the mainstream media be so kind as to overlook such blatant racism in past artwork as they have in Obama’s case? More realistically, the mainstream media would have a 24-hour newscast of the issue while holding panels screaming how racist the white artists past work is and claiming that Trump must be racist as well for choosing such an artist.
In any case, a more appropriate title for Obama’s portrait would be “My Legacy Disappears into the Bushes”, as the bushes represent the economy, jobs and national security, which continue to grow under President Trump and consume Obama’s legacy in a flood of national pride, prosperity and record low black unemployment.
“My Legacy Disappears into the Bushes…While Trump is Making America Great Again”