President Obama’s official portrait was unveiled earlier this week.
It features him sitting in a chair with a grandiose display of greenery behind him.
But now we’re finding out that the artist of his portrait has a shocking secret.
Kehinde Wiley is the first African American ever chosen to paint the portrait of a president.
The non-traditional artist describes his own work as “bombastic, syrupy and garish,” which certainly explains the vast backdrop of greenery and flowers that symbolize Obama’s upbringing in Hawaii.
But Wiley’s artwork is also known to be incredibly racist and violent.
One of his previous paintings features a black woman wielding a sword in one hand and the decapitated head of a white woman in the other hand.
“Many Americans heard of Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind the official of President Barack Obama, for the first time when his latest work was unveiled Monday at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
Wiley is the first African-American artist commissioned to paint the portrait of a U.S. president. He told The Guardian in 2017 that he viewed the project as a “huge responsibility.”
Its background — a wall of bright leaves — breaks from the conventions of previous presidential portraits, which often depict the Commander-in-Chief before a darker, earth-toned background or inside a room of the White House.
Time Magazine offers a concise summary of Wiley’s background:
Wiley was born South Central, Los Angeles in 1977, where he was raised by a single mother and was one of six siblings. His mother was a linguist, and he grew up surrounded by books.
Wiley took his first art lesson at age 11, and at age 12, in 1989, Wiley was one of 50 American children who went to live in Russia at the Center for U.S./U.S.S.R. Initiatives. There, he studied art and Russian language. He eventually attended the San Francisco Art Institute, and studied art in graduate school at Yale.
He is based in New York, but has studios around the world in Beijing and West Africa, where his father is from.”
“One of Wiley’s older paintings has received renewed attention, as it provocatively reimagines a Renaissance-era painting of the heroic biblical figure Judith beheading the evil enemy commander, Holofernes, and thus saving her people.
Wiley’s work, titled “Judith and Holofernes,” shows a black woman holding a sword in one hand and the disembodied head of a white woman in the other. Several outlets, including TheWrap and the Washington Examiner, drew attention to the piece’s viral revival on social media.
This particular painting comes from a collection called “An Economy of Grace,” released in 2012. A second painting in the collection bearing the same title (sources differ at times between “Judith and Holofernes” and “Judith Beheading Holofernes”) depicts its hero in a strapless blue dress rather than a regal, gloved gown.
“It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley said in a 2012 interview with New York Magazine.
He revealed that the subjects were two women he knew in real life:
[B]ack to the lady with the severed head. Like most Wiley paintings, this one has a backstory: Her name is Triesha Lowe, Wiley explains.
She’s a stay-at-home mom whom Wiley found at the Fulton Mall. Her pose is a riff on classical depictions by Caravaggio and Gentileschi, of the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes. And the severed head? “She’s one of my assistants.”
Do you really think it’s a coincidence that Obama chose Wiley for the commission?