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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Obama: A legacy of continued firsts

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Former President Barack Obama’s term was full of firsts. He was the first African American president, his family the first African American family to live in the White House. They let the country into their lives and provided commentary on contemporary culture unlike any presidential family before.

Now, about a year after the end of his term, Obama chose the first African American artist to craft the official presidential portrait.

It is an American tradition that the president gets their portrait done to hang permanently in the America’s Presidents collection in the National Portrait Gallery in outhe nation’s capital, Washington D.C.

On Feb. 12, former President Obama’s official portrait was released. Obama chose artist Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait. Wiley’s style is quite different from past artists whose work hang in this gallery, as he often uses beautiful colors and patterns alongside people of color to represent African American history and heroism. Through this visual rhetoric, he challenges traditional notions of the power of elite white men.

What a perfect way to depict the first African American president of the United States for future generations to see.

The Obama era will forever serve as a major milestone in the the battle against racism in America and this portrait is a great way to represent that visually. It is different from past presidents’ portraits, and it challenges the norms followed by every president before him.

The painting depicts Obama sitting in a chair with his hands crossed across his knees, surrounded by shrubbery. Amongst the greenery, there are different species of flowers, each representing a different aspect of Obama’s life. The white flowers, jasmine, represent his birthplace of Hawaii. The pink and gold flowers, chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, representing his position as senator of Illinois before ascending the presidency. Lastly, the African blue lilies represent his roots, as his father was Kenyan.

This portrayal is refreshing, symbolic and truly Obama-esque. The portrait serves as another reminder of how heroic and strong Obama was and continues to be despite his  absence in the White House.

In the midst of current challenges, hatred and tragedies in the nation, the release of this portrait reminds us that there is hope and that we can take small steps toward change. A man committed to tackling injustice will now forever continue the conversation long after he is gone. Just like Obama, his portrait is unique and unforgettable. 

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