The Obama portraits.

Brooklynites will soon have the opportunity to see the iconic Obama portraits up-close-and-personal at the Brooklyn Museum.

Brooklyn is one of only five cities in the United States chosen to display Kehinde Wiley’s painting of President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The paintings are going on a five-city tour organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C

The tour kicks off at the Art Institute Chicago (the site of Michelle and Barack’s first “official” date) before traveling on to the Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, High Museum of Art and finally the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Photo: Creative Commons / Luke Vargas / ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

In Brooklyn, the portraits will be on display from this Friday. A host of special programming will surround their arrival in the borough.

This Saturday, visitors are invited to celebrate the exhibition’s opening with an afternoon of music by Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, poetry by Cave Canem, art-making with Cool Culture and a Brooklyn Pop-Up Market spotlighting local Black vendors.

Meanwhile, on September 2, Michelle Obama’s sartorial vision will be explored with an event held with her stylist, Meredith Koop, and fashion historian Kimberly M. Jenkins.

The two will discuss some of her key looks and explore the intersection between fashion and politics.

Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

If you’re still thirsty for more, on Oct. 21, wine expert Marquis Williams will be serving a wine tasting while Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of American Art Jane Dini speaks on the history of presidential portraiture.

Wiley and Sherald were the first African American artists to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create official portraits of a president or first lady.

Wiley is a New York-based artist celebrated for his paintings of contemporary Black men and women assuming grand and heroic poses long used only for depictions of European leaders and royalty. 

Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley.

Art Institute Chicago describes the portrait of Barack Obama as a “site of rich possibility: opening up tradition, reimagining presidential portraiture, and re-envisioning how power is depicted.”

Sherald is a Jersey City-based artist known for her life-sized depictions of Black people from her community.

At their first meeting in the Oval Office, Sherald and Michelle Obama reportedly clicked instantly.

Obama recalled, “Within the first few sentences of our conversation, I knew she was the one for me… There was an instant connection, that kind of sister-girl connection… and that was true all the way through the process,” Art Institute Chicago reported.

The museum says the portrait depicts the former First Lady as “an accessible icon.”

As well as the events for adults surrounding the portraits, the Brooklyn Museum will also be holding fall art classes to inspire the next generation of National Portrait Gallery painters.

For more information and tickets, click here.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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