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Mountains, quilts and a wedding ring: why the Obama portraits matter

With black audience underrepresented in museum audiences, the Obamas' portraits could start a vital conversation about who gets to enjoy and critique art

By Bolanle Tajudeen  

Barack Obama is effortlessly cool. His post-presidency photographs showed him jet skiing on Richard Branson’s private island. Every year, he gives us a Spotify playlist featuring hip-hop, soul and jazz. His mic drop moment will forever be in our meme library.

So it was of little surprised that the coolest president ever chose Kehinde Wiley to immortalise him in the Smithsonian public presidential collection. Wiley—who is also a popular and cool contemporary painter—is known for creating grandiose masters of African American subjects, re-imagined as noble figures.

The portrait of Barack…

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