The artist who painted former President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait unveiled Monday is facing scrutiny for past works that depict black women decapitating white women.
Kehinde Wiley, a New York City-based artist who became the first black American to ever paint an official presidential portrait, unveiled two paintings in 2012 that began circulating on social media this week.
“It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Mr. Wiley told The New Yorker in a 2012 interview.
Both paintings, titled “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” portray Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith. In Mr. Wiley’s versions, Judith is a black woman holding the severed head of a white woman.
“Judith and Holofernes is from Wiley’s most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects,” a 2012 explanation of the work from the North Carolina Museum of Art foundation reads, The Wrap reported. “Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”
Mr. Wiley’s portrait of Mr. Obama depicted the former president sitting in a chair with arms crossed, surrounded by Mr. Wiley’s signature floral patterns.
Former first lady Michelle Obama was painted by Baltimore artist Amy Sherald.