Let’s take a break from discussing depressing subjects like partisan witch hunts and school shootings and go back to our roots for a while. Recently Barack Obama revealed the portrait of himself that’s to hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Many have already weighed in on this particular portrait, remarking on its lack of artistry, the poor execution, the odd composition, the controversial person who created it, and its apparent symbology.
A quick once-over, rotating the image in all directions, revealed a few interesting things.
What appears to be a spermatocyte sits on Obama’s (wedding) ring finger, between his fingernail and knuckle. (The image has been cropped, with contrast modified to help illustrate the anomaly.)
Obama has been quoted as saying that he and the artist have much in common and that “it’s safe to say Kehinde and I bonded.”
In 2010, a writer/critic said of “artist” Kehinde Wiley’s work:
Wiley puts contemporary urban black men in positions of power and in history. …
In the majority of the critiques of his work, nowhere is it discussed the blatant sexual and homoerotic overtones of Wiley’s images. Looking at this work in books or on the internet is one thing, but in person, it’s so obvious! …
Let’s be frank. These men are gay! …
The art world looks at these images as extremely strong statements of race and identity. The thing is they choose to look with limited vision. Kehinde Wiley not only creates monumental paintings of black men in power, but he also creates monumental paintings of gay men in power …
Another writer asked,
Is this a joke on Obama, or is it on us?
Trust me: It’s on us. As usual with all things Obama.
As well as subtle symbolism within the painting (subject to interpretation, of course), there’s also explicit symbolism: The Smithsonian informs us that the flowers seen in the background of the portrait symbolize places that are important to Obama’s life story:
Chrysanthemum is the official flower of Chicago, where Obama lived before he moved to Washington, DC.
Agapanthus, supposedly a reference to Obama’s Kenyan father, is known as “Lily of the Nile,” as well as “African Lily”.
The white flowers are said to be jasmine, representing Hawaii, where Obama lived for a short time with his grandparents. Jasmine is also the national flower of the Philippines, where he mother once worked, as well as Indonesia, where Obama spent much of his childhood, although no news story nor the Smithsonian point that out. (Yet the white flowers in the painting do not very closely resemble jasmine. It would take a botanist to say for sure.)
Here’s something that others have not, so far as can be determined, opined upon. Take a look at Obama’s watch. Below is a cropped image showing the watch. (The image has been rotated to show the watch as it would appear to someone looking down to see the time.)
Knowing that Obama is into symbols, snark, and sometimes not-so-subtle insults, it seems pertinent to ascertain what time his watch reveals. Surely it has meaning. Why else is the watch in the portrait?
Looks like it’s 3:20. Assuming that’s correct, what does that time symbolize? Simple searches on the Web turn up a number of possibilities. Let’s highlight a few from religious texts:
Philippians 3:20: But our citizenship is in heaven.
John 3:20: Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
Mark 3:20-22: He came home. Again (the) crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”
Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:20: So if they argue with you, say, “I have submitted myself to Allah [in Islam], and [so have] those who follow me.” …
Probably every book in the Bible or Surah in the Koran has a 3:20 verse. Maybe there’s no particular meaning to the time shown on Obama’s watch, but it’s hard to believe that, considering the “artist” and his subject.
The entire portrait has a “Where’s Waldo” feel about it, but it also calls to mind an “autostereogram,”an optical illusion in which a 2-D image contains a 3-D image embedded (and hidden) within, aka a “Magic Eye” image.
The image at this link reveals a shark, provided you stare at it long enough. Not everyone can figure out the trick to seeing the hidden image, and some have visual impairments that prevent them from seeing it. Remember Mr. Pitt?
One has to wonder whether an in-person viewing of Obama’s portrait would reveal more than what you see at first glance.
Is the Obama portrait really an autostereogram? (I gave myself a headache trying to find out, but it would not be surprising to learn there are embedded images or symbols within the repeating, wallpaper-like background. The best I could do was to perceive an illusion of a 3-D Obama floating towards me, against the floral background. Scary!)
There are other questions one might ask about the portrait:
What is the significance of the unbuttoned shirt?
What do the tightly crossed arms indicate?
What about that extreme “manspreading in a sea of poison ivy?”
How about the chair? Are there messages hidden in the scrollwork or the carvings along the seat (as there may also be in the design of his presidential library)? Or does the chair refer back to the photo below, from Obama’s childhood in Indonesia?
We had a lot of fun analyzing that one!
How about it? Do you see other symbols or hidden messages in Obama’s newest portrait?