Michelle Obama’s portrait by Amy Sherald

The dress, Smith said by phone from Paris, is based on one that was in her spring 2017 Milly collection. That season Smith was inspired by a “desire for equality, equality in human rights, racial equality, LGBTQ equality,” she says. One of the recurring elements in the collection were various forms of lacing and ties; the details were meant to suggest a “feeling of being held back. . . that we’re not quite there yet.” The finish line is still off in the distance.

“But other aspects are challenging, even unsettling. Sherald depicts her black subjects in de-saturated tones. Her work asks the audience to consider the subject with race in the background, instead of the foreground. While some people find freedom in that gesture, others, like myself, struggle to divorce it from the gravity that race carries in our daily lives. Sherald is asking our brains to do something it has been conditioned against: to relearn how to see blackness and individuality, without its most obvious visual cue.” From,  It’s OK to Feel Ambivalent About Michelle Obama’s Official Portrait: Too often, women of color are expected to support black artists in the abstract — sometimes at the expense of meaningful, critical dialogue.


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