The Obama portraits.

On Saturday, people from all over the city came to the Brooklyn Museum to celebrate the unveiling of the vibrant and groundbreaking Obama Portraits with live music, poetry, food, shopping and artmaking.

The Obama Portraits are the official paintings of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively.

The paintings will be on view at the BK Museum from August 27 to October 24, 2021. This is the second stop the paintings will make in a national five-city tour organized by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The live music was provided by Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, a legendary 16-person group that shared its molten, genre-bending “avant groidd” music abundantly with the crowd.

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

“We feel really blessed,” said Jared Micheal Nickerson, bass player and co-leader of the band. “The energy was lovely. It was supposed to rain but we had a nice crowd. They were very involved.”

Kyle Carrero Lopez, Nkosi Nkululeko and celeste doaks read their original poetry presented in partnership with Cave Canem, Brooklyn’s leading organization dedicated to cultivating the artistic growth of Black poets. The event closed out with a DJ set from Niara Sterling.

Carrero Lopez, who explores the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba in his poetry, said that while he was critical of the U.S. government, he was ultimately glad to participate in this celebration.

A rapt audience at the BK Museum’s backyard. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

“Coming of age as a young Black person and seeing Obama come into power was huge and important,” Carrero Lopez said.

“However, as I’ve gotten older, my political leanings have shifted and my criticism of U.S. Empire has evolved, my feelings have complicated toward Obama. I’m much more critical. I’m glad I came here and did this though. It feels like taking a part of something historical.”

As part of a community portrait project by Souls In Focus, attendees could get their picture taken in front of back-drops designed to look like the unique background of the Obama portraits.

The backdrops were created by The James Umbrella Creative Company, anchored by Lamar Bryant.

“One thing I notice is that no matter what face they are making in their portrait, as soon as they’re done, there’s this huge smile on their face,” Bryant said. “It gives me so much joy to see that.”

The Brooklyn Museum’s very own food truck. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

The Brooklyn Pop-Up Market, which set up in front of the museum all weekend, spotlighted local Black artists and vendors this week in honor of the Obama portraits celebration.

Bryant said the portraits warrant this type of Brooklyn welcome.

“Seeing the paintings in person made me really teary eyed. The portraits are inspiring. I hope people leave here inspired to do more work and be better versions of themselves.”

This Thursday September 2, the celebration continues at the BK Museum with a talk about the first lady’s ‘culture-shifting’ style with Michelle Obama’s stylist.

Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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  1. Those are two of the worst — maybe THE worst — Presidential portraits ever created…undignified dream-like cartoons.

  2. I am excited to see these vibrant portraits by two dynamic and talented artists. I would love to know more about the artists’ interpretation and the images they convey.

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