As tradition goes, Obama got his portrait done. So did Michelle (and her remarkably sculpted arms). Unveiled Monday, they’re the talk of the town (aka the World Wide Web), and not just because the ex-presidential duo was the first to commission black artists to do the job (hers, Amy Sherald; his, Kehinde Wiley).
"I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow [him] to do what I asked," Obama said Monday at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. And excess gray aside, he got more than he bargained for.
Some are convinced that the former president’s portrait — where he’s seated in a greenery-hedged chair, posture comfortable, face calculated — contains "secret sperm."
The idea picked up traction after Fox News host Sean Hannity posted a tweet he soon took down: "Obama's portrait—a stark contrast to predecessors with inappropriate sexual innuendo." It linked to an article written by his website's staff, this too taken down.
Hannity first tweeted this ridiculous, if not racist, thing about Obama's portrait. pic.twitter.com/2ZJivkbY2K— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) February 13, 2018
However, thanks to the good ol’ internet, you can still view the article in an archived state. Its headline begins with, "PORTRAIT PERVERSION: Obama Portrait Features 'SECRET SPERM'…" (not exaggerating with the all caps).
Wiley, a New York-based contemporary artist, is known for his large, realistic canvas portraits of African Americans, which, according to his Facebook page, apply conventions of wealth and prestige and tie in inspiration from historical works. He's so well known that he was even commissioned to paint Michael Jackson in 2010.
The article from Hannity’s site claims that a vein by Obama’s left temple — one that, as BuzzFeed pointed out, has been documented in a number of photos — is actually…well…sperm.
It was later revealed that the "secret sperm" theory appeared to have started in a 4Chan thread.
Another episode of the white-supremacist-to-Hannity pipeline of crazy shit. pic.twitter.com/SJNsukWjBk— Adrenochrome Harvester (@ClenchedFisk) February 13, 2018
"Earlier today my web staff posted content that was not reviewed by me before publication," Hannity said in a statement to The Daily Beast. "It does not reflect my voice and message and, therefore, I had it taken down."
The bizarre article pointed to a 2008 New York Times piece as evidence for Wiley's potential motive, which stated, "[Wiley’s] portraits initially depicted African-American men against rich textile or wallpaper backgrounds whose patterns he has likened to abstractions of sperm. Some of the subjects were famous (rap and sports stars), others not."
Wiley could not be reached for immediate comment, but if this claim is true, perhaps it wouldn’t be too far-fetched. Wiley really has painted "free-floating" sperm on canvas before.
Here’s more from this artist, Kehinde Wiley.— Mark W. Caputo 🇺🇸 (@MarkWCaputo) February 13, 2018
The guy has a real odd fixation for sperm. pic.twitter.com/7PunikTaxh
Sperm Detail from “Napoleon Leading The Army Over The Alps” x Kehinde Wiley pic.twitter.com/w6WuniSOWf— halleteri (@halleteri) December 28, 2017
So, sperm could just be Wiley's thing for whatever reason (power trope, weird infatuation or otherwise). Regardless of his intentions, the inappropriate detail is there. On a presidential portrait. Take that as you will and begone.