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Obama Portraits & Black American Portraits at LACMA

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As part of a five-city tour, the Obama portraits have come to Los Angeles (Kehinde Wiley’s painted portrait of Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s of Michelle Obama). While the paintings themselves are notable — the Obamas are the first African American subjects to be featured in presidential portraits, and Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to receive a presidential commission — LACMA has also curated a companion show, Black American Portraits, which is drawing crowds to the adjacent galleries. 

The exhibition is a reframing of American portraiture from a long obscured Black perspective and features more than 140 artists, with a focus on depictions of Black subjects that celebrate love, abundance, and agency. Works by Wiley and Sherald are also highlighted in the exhibition, framing their Obama paintings within a longer legacy of Black painting, picture-making, and self-portraiture. Many of the works included have been pulled from LACMA’s collection — spanning the early 18th century to the present — alongside several contemporary LA-based artists like Karon Davis, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Sadie Barnette.

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Photo: Black American Portraits (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artists and LACMA.