By Nii B. Andrews

Former POTUS, Barack Obama has chosen Kehinde Wiley to execute his official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley who is based in New York but hails from LA, has carved a name for himself as a “hip hop” portraitist.

Kehinde Wiley. Photo by Tony Powell.

His paintings (often in large format) show young men of African descent dressed in hip hop style in richly detailed historical backgrounds reminiscent of painters such as Holbein,Titian and Manet.

The portraits therefore reference/adopt visual cues of power, heroism, wealth, prestige and majesty to produce indelible and sublime images of his subjects.

The results are provocative and edgy images that disrupt conventions and assumptions of portrait painting – he blurs the traditional with the contemporary.

Wiley received an MFA from Yale in 2001 then went on to become an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His work has been the subject of many academic articles, numerous exhibitions and is in the permanent collection of prestigious museums.

We shall await expectantly the rendition of the Obama portrait as Wiley does not retreat from the relevant, complex socio-political undercurrents of history.

His paintings always awaken complex issues that many would prefer to avoid.

Women of African descent have also been featured in his work.

Ehm, er…….do we have official presidential portraits (not photographs) for each POTROG?

If not, why?

If we do, where is the collection kept/ displayed and who is in charge of it?



  1. Very interesting reading and yes we can look forward to how he will render Obama’s portrait.

    You also ask a very good question – re: official portraits of POTROGs.

    Who is looking at these things?

    When we let such things drop we lose our history.


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