Obamas unveil official White House portraits in emotional ceremony

Former US president and former first lady return 'home' to reveal portraits that will hang in White House after being snubbed by former administration

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US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House on Wednesday to unveil their official portraits, which will adorn the walls of the building in Washington.

"These portraits have a special significance because, as Joe [Biden] mentioned, they will hang in the White House alongside portraits of other presidents and first ladies dating back to George and Martha [Washington]," Mr Obama said.

It is tradition for formal presidential portraits to be hung in the White House. The Obamas' unveiling was delayed for five years during Donald Trump's presidency and the pandemic.

"I do recognise why moments like these are important, why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy," Ms Obama said in her remarks.

"We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power," she said, a reminder of the way former president Donald Trump refused to accept his 2020 defeat.

Ms Obama then talked about growing up as a black girl in Chicago that she assumed "she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy" or other famous first ladies.

"Too often in this country, people feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in," she said.

"What we are seeing is a reminder that there's a place for everyone in this country", where "the two of us can end up on a wall in the most famous address in the world".

Mr Obama's portrait, painted by Robert McCurdy, shows him standing in a black suit with his hands in his pockets against a white background.

The former president, who was notoriously critiqued for once wearing a summer suit, joked that he had resisted "wearing a tan suit" for his sitting.

The piece depicting Ms Obama, painted by Sharon Sprung, shows her in a light blue gown on a red couch.

"I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence and the fact that she's fine," Mr Obama said.

It was Ms Obama's first visit to the White House after leaving with her husband in January 2017.

The former president made his first visit to the White House after his presidency earlier in the spring for an anniversary event celebrating his banner healthcare legislation with Mr Biden.

"Barack and Michelle, welcome home," Mr Biden said during the ceremony.

The Obamas used their remarks to reminisce about their time in the White House and to thank their past administration members and residence staff that worked with them during Mr Obama's presidency.

"It's more than staff — you're friends, you're family to us," Ms Obama said.

Additional portraits of the Obamas were completed in 2018 and shown at art museums across the country before being permanently placed in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald completed these works, making them the first black artists to paint portraits for the museum.

Updated: September 07, 2022, 10:01 PM
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