Obama Portrait Artist Also Painted Black Women Holding Severed White Heads

Brittany M. Hughes | February 12, 2018

While the recently unveiled official portraits of Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have drawn scrutiny for being…well, kinda weird, here’s another fun fact that might be worse than the paintings themselves.

It turns out Kehinde Wiley, the artist former President Obama hand-picked to paint his Secret Garden-esque likeness, also has a penchant for painting disturbing images of black women holding severed white peoples’ heads.

Here’s a fun example:


This particular painting is called “Judith and Holofernes,” which refers to a story from the apocryphal Book of Judith which inspired a whole bunch of art during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. While the original story did involve a woman whacking off a guy’s head, Wiley’s choice to use a black woman holding a dead white person’s severed head is clearly a deliberate one.

Here’s another piece by Wiley utilizing the same myth:


For his part, Obama claimed that "what I was always struck by when I saw [Wiley's] portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege."

Yeah, that must be it. A black woman holding a dead white person's head is...challenging.

Wiley’s become pretty famous for his reimagining of traditional European portraits using black people, instead -- hardly a terrible thing, in and of itself. But while the majority of Wiley’s paintings focus on black subjects who aren’t holding the decapitated heads of white folks, that doesn’t really provide much comfort for the fact that our latest presidential portrait was done by a guy who’s apparently O.K. with glorifying racial violence.

But I guess we’re not allowed to complain about that.