Unlike the widely publicized National Portrait Gallery portraits of the first Black president and first lady, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, the paintings unveiled Wednesday are the official portraits displayed in the White House. The newest pieces from artists Robert McCurdy, who painted President Obama, and Sharon Sprung, who painted Mrs. Obama, join depictions of past presidents and first ladies in the White House dating back to George and Martha Washington.
The ceremony in the White House East Room felt more like a homecoming, with the crowd welcoming Barack and Michelle with a standing ovation upon their arrival. They peppered the couple’s remarks with rousing applause and laughter at every zinger (President Obama had plenty). Michelle’s mother and brother joined the audience at the ceremony, along with past Obama administration officials, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and the former Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett.
Apart from Michelle Obama sporting box braids– the official ‘Black girl on vacation’ hair style– here are the other best moments from the portrait ceremony celebrating the country’s first Black presidential couple. Spoiler: most of them feature our forever First Lady.
Michelle Obama bringing up her Chicago roots and acknowledging the historical implications of being the only Black First Lady to grace the White House walls
“Growing up on Euclid Avenue, I never could have imagined that any of this will be part of my story,” Mrs. Obama said during her remarks, referencing her childhood home in Chicago. “But even if it’s all still been awkward for me, I do recognize why moments like these are important,” she shared, as her mother Marian Robinson looked on in the seat behind hers. Mrs. Obama added, “For me, this day is not just about what has happened. It’s also about what could happen, because a little girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolly Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as First Lady.”
The former first lady lands a subtle jab at former president Donald Trump and the country’s increasingly overt right-wing shift
“The people make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” Mrs. Obama remarked. “This day isn’t about me…it’s about telling a fuller story that includes every single American. And as much as some folks might want us to believe that that story has lost some of its shine, that division and discrimination might have dimmed that light, I still know deep in my heart that what we share [and] our democracy is so much stronger than our differences.”
Barack Obama’s frequent comedy bits, when he wasn’t complimenting his wife
“When people ask me what I miss most about the White House, it’s not Air Force One that I talked about—although it was Air Force One,” the 44th president joked, to laughter from the audience. He also talked about young staffers during his presidency moving on to other careers and running things. “It’s a little shocking,” he quipped, “and may also explain some of the gray hairs I’ve seen. I am a little disappointed that I haven’t heard of anyone name their kid Barack yet, or Michelle.” When the portraits were unveiled, he complimented artist Sharon Sprung for “capturing everything that I love about Michelle, her grace, intelligence…and the fact that she’s fine,” Obama shared slyly. “I could not ask for a better life partner.”
President Joe Biden welcoming the Obamas back to the White House
“Barack and Michelle, welcome home,” Biden said, to applause. The short statement felt significant. Former presidents and first ladies tend to return to the White House to unveil their portraits during the immediately succeeding presidential administration, but Donald Trump did not host any events for the Obamas during his presidency. The ceremony was laden with inferences about Trump’s term and the stark contrast in decorum since the Obamas left the White House.