The Hidden Political Message of Michelle Obama’s Portrait Dress
Politico ^ | February 13, 2018 | By KIMBERLY CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL 3
Posted on 2/13/2018, 4:28:12 PM by COUNTrecount
While the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama unveiled Monday were applauded by the art world—for their intense visual impact as much as the choice of Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, artists who are both critical darlings and the first African-Americans to paint presidential portraits commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery—there was plenty for the Twitterati to snark about.
The wall of greenery behind President Obama was an obvious opening for jokes about his history with marijuana and Sean Spicer hiding in the White House bushes. Criticism of Michelle Obama’s portrait centered around two points. The face didn’t look much like her; some suggested it more closely resembles Kerry Washington, who plays a high-powered White House operative on Scandal. And the face—whoever it belonged to—was overshadowed by the striking, floor-length dress.
But there’s a reason for both of those criticisms: The dress is what says the most in this portrait, far more than the indistinct face.
First, the criticism about the lack of resemblance to the former first lady comes as no surprise to those of us familiar with the work of Sherald, a Baltimore-based artist. While she is best known for her stylized portraits of African-American women, they aren’t really portraits they depict anonymous subjects, under evocative titles contrasting grayscale skin tones against colorful clothing and a monochrome background. The neutral palette challenges racial stereotypes, while the flat plane evokes American folk art, At the unveiling, Sherald described the composition as “the act of Michelle Obama being her authentic self”—suggesting that she was aiming for something more than a mere superficial resemblance.
Secondly, there’s a reason why Obama’s face is the least interesting element here: The dress is as much a window into the former first lady’s identity as her face, and possibly a more accurate one.
(Excerpt) Read more at politico.com …