What’s Really Wrong with Amy Sherald’s Portrait of Michelle Obama?

By: Micaela Shambee– Editor, The Drive

@AmySherald’s Portrait of former first lady, Michelle Obama.

–It’s been several days since the unveiling of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s portraits for the Smithsonian, and the reactions to the striking paintings could not be more brutal.

Especially, the reactions to Michelle Obama’s portrait.

Across all social media platforms, opinions of the portrait range from frustrations with Sherald’s use of gray-scale for the skin tone, to the questioning of Sherald’s ability to accurately portray the former first lady, prompting the question:

What is really wrong with the Portrait of Michelle Obama?


After the unveiling of the portrait, Michelle Obama’s reaction to her own immortalized image ironically gives insight to the inherent problems with the portrait.  She states, “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”

The irony of this statement is that when black girls look up to the portrait, they will not see an image of themselves, with various shades of brown–but gray–a haunting reminder of the socio-political issues surrounding skin tone in and outside the black community.

“When given the opportunity to render our own image, whether conscious or unconscious, are we choosing to enhance or erase ourselves?”


Critics feel that the grayscale adds insult to injury because the portrait also does not have the former first lady’s striking Black features: her full, high check bones, prominent nose and striking eyes. This leads one to question: when given the opportunity to render our own image, whether conscious or unconscious, are we choosing to enhance or erase ourselves?

Photo Credit: theobamadiary

Former President, Barack Obama said, “Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love,” further prompting critiques of the painting.

Twitter users wrote:

“Michelle Obama said in a speech that she is proud that young girls of color will look at this portrait and say “that could be me”…which is true because it looks nothing like Michelle Obama.” Stevie G.B. (@Steviegeebee). February 13, 2018 (Excerpt from Twitter)

Love the photo, but the portrait of Michelle Obama lacks heart and soul and doesn’t even look like her. Such a shame. jcfred (@jcfclark1). February 14, 2018

“What do you think of Michelle Obama’s official portrait? Please vote and retweet.

06% It looks just like her
16% It sort of looks like her
78% It doesn’t look like her

With more than 70% of voters in the individual tweet above stating that the portrait doesn’t look like the first lady, it’s easy to say that Amy Sherald’s take on the first lady has been discomforting for the general public.

However, maybe, that was the artist’s intention.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

What do you think of the Obama portraits?

Sound off in the comments below and sign up for The Drive newsletter to get updates and more news.

–And remember,

Stay informed, open-minded, and driven.




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