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                                 Installation view, ‘Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic’ at the Brooklyn Museum, with “Bound” (2014) in the center.
“The honor of being the first African American painter to paint the first African American president has been, for me, beyond any individual recognition...” — KEHINDE WILEY
is bigger than me, and anything I could gain out of this. It presents a whole field of potential for young people—par- ticularly young black and brown kids who might see these paintings on museum walls and see their own potential.”
Lawrence Waldron, art professor at City College, Queens College and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, called the portraits beautiful and arresting.
“These paintings are all about creating drama in the halls ofpresidentialfame,”Waldronsaid.“Inthatway,theymakea historic splash like Obama’s election win nine years ago when some people thought anything was possible for black folks.”
For Zebulon Miletsky, Africana Studies professor at Stony Brook University in New York, both portraits are a coun- terpunch to damaging images of the Obamas that have been shared internationally and have their own historical implications.
“It just speaks to the power of art, to reclaim space, to reclaim one’s name when one’s name has been thrown into the dirt and sullied,” Miletsky said. “Something is needed at this time to sort of make people feel good and not just feel good, but feel proud and start to imagine a way to carve out some meaning in this time period.”
The portraits celebrate the hope for greater inclusion in
society, said Lisa Strong, director of the Art and Museum Studies MA Program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC Strong agrees with critics who have said the portraits are presidential without abandoning the artists’ signature styles.
“The choice of artists has resulted in paintings that are far more interesting than the typical presidential portrait, espe- cially when viewed in the context of each artist’s work,”she said. “But the portraits still challenge the viewer to interpret theirmanymeaningsinrelationtotheObamas’biographies. Portraiture can be so much more than a likeness, and these paintings prove that point.”
Robin Strongin, co-founder and vice chair of The Center for Contemporary Political Art based in Washington, DC, has visited the gallery seven times, just to see people’s reactions. Strongin said she was blown away by how in- novative the portraits were and pleased to see the aura of excitement from visitors of all ages.
“It obviously is a reminder of what we held dear when there was a president and a first lady in office not that long ago who seemed to engender democratic principles and di- versity and equity in a way that is not the case now,”Strongin said. “These portraits bring something new and fresh for how they will be forever remembered in the Portrait Gallery.”

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