A little girl went viral last week after a man captured a photo of her standing entranced, mouth agape, in front of the recently unveiled Michelle Obama’s portrait by Baltimore artist Amy Sherald.
The photo, which was taken by fellow portrait admirer Ben Hines at the National Portrait Gallery, has more than 34,000 shares and 24,000 likes on Facebook, and has sparked emotional reactions and conversations about representation in the art world and beyond.
“I was delighted to be there to witness that moment, and I’m just glad so many people want to share in the accomplishments of women like Michelle Obama and Amy Sherald and the wonder and awe that shows clearly on Parker’s face in the photo,” Hines said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun Monday.
Sherald took to her Instagram to emphasize, she, too, was “feeling all the feels.” She noted that the photo reminded her of the first time she went to a museum in elementary school and saw a painting by artist Bo Bartlett, which featured a black man standing in front of a house.
“I don't remember a lot about my childhood, but I do have a few emotional memories etched into my mind forever and seeing that painting of a man that looked like he could be my father stopped me dead in my tracks,” Sherald said. “This was my first time seeing real paintings that weren't in a book and also weren't painted in another century. I didn't realize that none of them had me in them until I saw that painting of Bo's. I knew I wanted to be an artist already, but seeing that painting made me realize that I could. What dreams may come?” Sherald wrote, followed by the hashtag “#representationmatters.”
Michelle Obama, too, responded to the photo — by meeting Parker. The two were seen dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” in a video Obama posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Parker, I'm so glad I had the chance to meet you today (and for the dance party)! Keep on dreaming big for yourself...and maybe one day I'll proudly look up at a portrait of you!” Obama wrote.
Parker’s mother, Jessica Curry, who took her and her 1-year-old sister Ava to see the Obama portraits last week, told Buzzfeed that she thought she wasn’t getting a good photo of Parker because she wouldn’t turn around to face the camera.
"As a little person looking at a portrait that large, I can imagine it's fascinating," Curry told BuzzFeed, adding that Parker, even at 2, knows that Obama is a former first lady.
"I didn't realize it would be so moving to so many people," she said.
Curry did not respond to a request for comment from The Baltimore Sun.
Curry emphasized in an interview with CNN the significance of the moment for her daughter and other girls of color.
"As a female and as a girl of color, It's really important that I show her people who look like her that are doing amazing things and are making history so that she knows she can do it.”
Representation is also a concept that Obama mentioned at the unveiling of her portrait in February. She explained that she felt an instant “sista-girl” connection with Sherald, who typically depicts African-American subjects with skin on a grayscale that pop against colorful backgrounds and clothing.
Obama also emphasized how honored she was that girls of color would be able to see an “image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution.”
“I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls,” she said.
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