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The painting that deserves to be in the AP Art History curriculum

For my AP Art History class last year, we were assigned a project where we had to choose any work of art to add to the curriculum. We had to write a short essay detailing our choice. I had so much fun with this project and thought it would be cool to share my essay.

Kehinde Wiley’s official presidential portrait of Barack Obama deserves to be included in the AP Art History curriculum for its unprecedented nature. It is a monumental work of art featuring a monumental man, the first African American president of the United States. When the painting was unveiled in 2018, it garnered national attention, as people had never seen anything like it. It marked a sharp departure from the traditional style that had defined presidential portraits for years; instead of being dark and formal, this painting has a sense of informality and contains vibrant colors. It depicts Obama sitting in a chair, and he is set against a bright green and floral backdrop, gazing directly at the viewer. Wiley places an emphasis on detail as demonstrated by the wrinkles on Obama’s forehead and suit and the musculature of his hands. The flowers in the background each symbolize an aspect of Obama’s history. For its departure from traditional norms, Wiley’s portrait of Obama merits a spot in the AP Art History curriculum.

In addition, Kehinde Wiley deserves to be featured in the curriculum because he is one of the most influential contemporary artists. Wiley is most commonly known for his portraits of young Black men with dramatic floral backgrounds. With his art, he challenges stereotypes associated with Black men, such as violence and fear. Unlike some of the other artists featured in the curriculum, Wiley is actively addressing societal issues, which in itself makes him worthy of being included in the 250.

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