Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama graced the White House with their presence once again for the historical unveiling of their portraits on Wednesday.
When future generations see these portraits by Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung in the White House, I hope they get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope they leave with a deeper understanding that if we could make it, they can do remarkable things, too. pic.twitter.com/3Eo1WNr31b
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 7, 2022
Sharon Sprung painted Michelle’s portrait, and Robert McCurdy painted Barack’s. Those who attended the event included US attorney Eric Holder who served on the Obama administration, and Valerie Jarrett, Barack’s former senior advisor.
It was an extraordinary honor to attend today’s uplifting unveiling of @BarackObama and @MichelleObama White House portraits. I hope generations of Americans will walk the White House corridors and see hope – and the best of themselves – in these portraits. pic.twitter.com/j5BJ2tMQ43
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) September 7, 2022
— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) September 7, 2022
According to President Joe Biden, the portraits will hang in the white house “forever” and evoke change. Biden called for the two to come up on the stage to unveil their gifts, revealing realistic and almost photographic-like portraits, earning cheers and applause from the audience.
Barack and Michelle expressed in their speeches the nostalgic feeling their homecoming brought. And they reflected on the eight years they spent presiding over the country.
“When people ask me what I miss most about the white house years, it is not Air Force One that I talk about, although I miss Air Force One,” Barack joked, acquiring laughter from the audience in response. “It’s the change that I had to stand shoulder to should with all of you. To have a chance to witness so many talented, selfless, idealistic, good people working tirelessly every day to make the world better.”
Later in the speech, he addressed Sprung and McCurdy’s portraits, calling them significant because they “will hang in the White House alongside portraits of other presidents and first ladies dating back to George [Washington] and Martha.”
He thanked Sprung for capturing the things he adored about Michelle.
“Her grace, intelligence and the fact that she’s fine,” gaining applause from the audience.
He continued, “And I wanted to thank Robert McCurdy for taking on a much more difficult subject and doing a fantastic job with mine. Robert is known for his painting of public figures Tony Morrison, The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, but what I love about Robert’s work is that he paints people exactly the way they are. For better or worse, he captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shit you’ll notice that he refused to hide. Any of my gray hairs. Refused my request to make my ears smaller.”
When Michelle approached the podium for her speech, she first thanked Barack for his “spicy remarks” and Jill and Joe Biden for inviting them back.
“We [Barack and Michelle] were saying at lunch that the girls have lived in this house longer than they’ve lived anywhere,” she stated. “…it is a special place because we raised our girls here, and it means so much to come back to friends and to be able to spend time talking about our girls.”
Michelle got emotional as she talked about how much the portraits meant to her.
“This day is not just about what has happened. It’s also about what could happen,” the former first lady stated. “Because a 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.”
An audience member interjected, saying, “We love you, Michelle,” earning a round of applause.
“But I’ve always wondered where does that ‘supposed to’ come from, who determines it,” she continued in her speech. “And too often in this country, people feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in. That they have to make a lot of money or come from a certain group or class or faith in order to matter. But what we’re looking at today [is] a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom.”
Michelle stated that the day wasn’t about the portraits but representation, telling a story that includes “every single American in every corner of the country.”
Watch the entire event below: