The former President and First Lady have had their portraits done, however of particular interest are the oddities within Obama’s portrait and the artist responsible for such.
Firstly, there is the strange occurrence of possibly a sixth finger on Obama’s hand, and then, of course, the entire setting of the painting as well. However, regardless of symbolism and such, perhaps even more strange is the painter himself.
The painter’s name is Kehinde Wiley and his biography reads;
“Working exclusively in portraiture, Kehinde Wiley fuses traditional formats and motifs with modern modes of representation. Selecting works from old masters like Peter Paul Rubens or Jacques-Louis David, Wiley replaces the historical figures with handsome young black men. In his related, ongoing “World Stage” series, Wiley’s heroic figures are depicted in front of colorful background patterns that make specific reference to textiles and decorative patterns of various cultures, from 19th-century Judaica paper cutouts to Martha Stewart’s interior color swatches. Wiley’s penchant for jarring juxtapositions stems from his desire to complicate notions of group identity. “How do we…go beyond the media stereotypes about national identity?” he has said. “I don’t really think about myself as a young gay black American, nor do I interface with my Brazilian or Mexican or Jewish friends that way.”
Kehinde has done several portraits over the years, including one where a black woman is beheading a white woman. At what point is that acceptable? Furthermore, at what point is it acceptable that a former President of the United States has his portrait created by that particular artist?
Context is everything, and according to Linda Dougherty of the North Carolina Art Museum where the painting of a woman being decapitated was being featured. The context for the aforementioned portrait is as follows;
“Judith and Holofernes is from Wiley’s most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects. Wiley uses “street casting” to find his models—walking city streets and asking ordinary people if they would pose for a portrait. He met the model for this painting, Treisha Lowe, at Fulton Mall, a pedestrian shopping street in downtown Brooklyn. This painting references a specific art-historical work, a 17th-century painting by Giovanni Baglione, Judith and the Head of Holofernes (1608). The subject is taken from the apocryphal Old Testament Book of Judith, in which a Jewish town is under attack by the Assyrian army led by the general Holofernes. Judith, a widow from the town, goes to Holofernes under the pretense of helping him defeat the Jews. After he falls asleep, she cuts his head off with his own sword, and the town defeats the army. Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”
The context of the imagery displayed can be described as a black woman decapitating a white woman as a means to display courage and power without historical context such as an instance in history, making this image a jab at normality and morality. The painting further depicts that it is acceptable for a black woman to assault, or murder, a white woman, when in reality such imagery is savage, as savage as ISIS beheading people across the Middle East.
For a former President of the United States to not only support an artist whom has displayed an absolute disregard for morality but to utilize that same artist for his presidential portrait, not a family photo, raises striking questions about the motives of Barack Obama.
However, could there be more to why exactly President Obama chose to utilize this particular artist, one who supports the beheading of white women? Recently an additional image surfaced, one from 2005, that happened to show Obama prior to becoming President rubbing shoulders and smiling with the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan.
Louis Farrakhan’s public rhetoric can be described in his own statements that amount to the moral acceptance of killing white people. On March 10th, 2015 Farrakhan stated that white people deserve to die and that black people should kill police officers.
“I wouldn’t bring our young women and young men into some place to be slaughtered. But that’s what the white man hopes for. That’s why he makes mischief with my words. ‘Farrakhan wanna get an army to kill people,’ because, you see, white people deserve to die. And they know so and they think it’s us coming to do it. No, no, no.”
Farrakhan later stated that; “that a God will send a UFO, “a chariot” or “wheel in the sky,” to rescue his followers and carry out justice if a race war began.”
In addition, he also said black people should “fight like hell to preserve and protect” the life God had given them and if the men among his followers see an injustice taking place at the hands of police, they need to step in and kill the police officer harming others – especially if it is a woman. Farrakhan cited an incident in McKinney, Texas, where a black teenage girl was thrown to the ground by a police officer last summer. That officer also pulled his weapon and pointed it at unarmed black teenagers. “Either you die or he dies,” Farrakhan said. “God is with you. That’s why we say, ‘Allah Akbar.’ God is great. We have no weapon. We bother nobody. Then if you come to take our life, don’t be surprised if you lose your own.”
“We are not killers. We are not murderers. We are being murdered. And there does come a time when somebody else other than us have to feel the pain they delight in giving us,” Farrakhan said. “So we are going to redistribute the pain through economic withdrawal. But there comes a time if it is forced upon us to fight that we must fight with those who fight with us.”
Previously Farrakhan had called for 10,000 men to retaliate against white Americans because of their alleged oppression of black people.
At three hours and 11 minutes in the video, Farrakhan, who often mixes Christian themes with his own Muslim theology, attempts to explain what he meant by his call for “10,000 fearless men” by comparing himself to Jesus, who he said will return with “10,000 angels.”
“Well, what do you need the 10,000 fearless for? Because it takes fearless men and fearless women to help others work out their salvation,” Farrakhan said. “Don’t be afraid that the minister is stupid, he just want to go out here and kill white people. That’s not my job. I’m here to represent the one who has got the power to do it. I got my job to do. And he’s not asking you to do that. You can get started but you won’t finish. You so tenderhearted, bless you. All the people you kill is with passion, and then you so sorry afterwards.”
Now, just what is the rhetoric of the former President of the United States being that he has both rubbed shoulders with Louis Farrakhan and utilized an artist who supports the beheading of white women?
Kehinde Wiley. “.” Artsy. . (2016): . . The portrait displayed above was created and owned by Kehinde Wiley. The purpose for utilization of this imagery in this report is subject to section Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 which reads allowance is made for fair use for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
Linda Dougherty. “New Acquisition by Kehinde Wiley.” North Carolina Art Muesuem. . (2012): . .
Gregory Tomlin. “'Stalk them and kill them,' Farrakhan says, calling for 10,000 volunteers to kill whites.” Christian Examiner . . (2015): . .
Andrew Harnik. “ Barack Obama, Michelle: What their portraits say about them and their artists.” Chicago Sun Times. . (2018): . .