The sneaky political message in Michelle Obama's portrait dress

Former President Barack Obama right and artist Kehinde Wiley left unveil the Obamas’ official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait in Washington

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery Unveils Portrait of President Barack Obama

New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley, who painted the president's portrait, and Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama, are the first African-Americans commissioned to paint official portraits of a first couple for the National Portrait Gallery.

The Obamas' portraits follow an established Washington tradition: the National Portrait Gallery has commissioned portraits of outgoing U.S. presidents and first ladies since 1962.

The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. "As you may have guessed, I don't think there is anybody in my family who has ever had a portrait done, let alone a portrait that will be hanging in the National Gallery", she told the press, celebrities, and politicians present.

They are stunning works unlike any other presidential portrait.

"Wiley and Sherald are artists who are involved in the contemporary world of art, they are artists who question the tradition of portraiture and its limits, in particular its pattern of exclusion of minorities, of black people, of dark people, and they do so by focusing on those subjects who have been outside of that tradition, "explained Caragol".

Kehinde Wiley's depiction of former President Obama shows him seated in an ornate wooden chair against a background of greenery and a symbolically meaningful assortment of flowers.

Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind Obama's portrait, is not some run-of-the-mill painter, however.

Sherald pained the former first lady in grayscale which was inspired by black and white pictures of African Americans from back in the day. "And the paintings I create aspire to express these attributes-a message of humanity".

Judith and Holofernes is from Wiley's most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects.

Wait a minute, did he really just say "the social gains" of "Black Power" and tie that in with Obama's presidency? "I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls".

While he didn't grow up with his father, Wiley traveled to meet him in Nigeria when he was 20 years old. The use of gray is a political statement of sorts for Sherald, in which she discards the assigned "color" of African-American subjects.

If, as Wiley has said, his intent as an artist is to be provocative, he can consider himself successful.

Once a USA president's term is finished, it's tradition that their official portraits will be revealed to the public. The heart transplant survivor brings a careful process to her work.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald / Oil on linen, 2018 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Obama's dress - true to form for a first lady whose wardrobe was often the focus of attention - dominates the frame. "'I've got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon, '" he said with a laugh.

While it was all fun and games, some people took issue with Michelle Obama's portrait, which was met with confusion and criticism for the seemingly unsimilar appearance.

Latest News