President Barack Obama Selects Nigerian-American Artist Kehinde Wiley for his Presidential Portrait

Fredrick Ngugi October 18, 2017
Nigerian American artist Kehinde Wiley. Photo credit: The New York Times

Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based Nigerian-American artist has been selected by The Smithsonian Museum to do a portrait of the former U.S. President Barack Obama for its National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley is widely known for his exciting, highly naturalistic portraits of African-Americans, including his most popular creations of young African-American men in their latest hip-hop street fashion items.

The 40-year-old artist was specifically selected by the former President Obama for his rich and highly inundated color palette and his use of embellished patterns, which often complement his accurate, yet dramatic, way of bringing out similarities in his subjects.

Wiley, who was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977 to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, was once described by the Columbus Museum of Art, as an award-winning artist whose heroic portraits “address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.”

One of his greatest works is the 2005 “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps”, which was based on the Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David.

Great Honor and Privilege

Announcing Wiley’s selection last week, the National Portrait Gallery said it was delighted to be working with the young artist along with the Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who will do a portrait of the former American First Lady Michelle Obama.

“Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century,” the museum wrote on its website.

Being commissioned by the world’s largest museum to do an official portrait of an American President is one of the greatest privileges an artist can enjoy. Very few painters have had this once in a lifetime opportunity.

The museum has partnered with the White House to commission official portraits of the American presidents and their spouses at the end of each presidency.

The artists commissioned to do the job are required to produce two sets of portraits: one for the White House and one for the National Portrait Gallery.

The Smithsonian Museum is the only arts center outside the White House where visitors get a chance to view the entire collection of presidential portraits.

“The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture,” the museum writes.

Through visual art, performing art and the news media, the National Portrait Gallery exposes presidents, visionaries, artists, human rights activists and villains whose lives and actions help to tell the American story.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: October 18, 2017


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