Wiley, who is 39 and from New York, created the two paintings in 2012 and was inspired by the Biblical story of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holoferne. At the time, Wiley told The New York Times that he was inspired by the classical European depictions of Bible stories by Caravaggio and Gentileschi, only he chose to depict Judith as a black woman and Holoferne as a white woman. He commented: “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing”.
That Obama artist, Kehinde Wiley, is also know for these fun paintings, which you can file under— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) February 12, 2018
"Imagine if this showed a TKTK " pic.twitter.com/4M0Tg1rZSG
The portraits were part of an exhibition in which his paintings only depicted women, rather than the young African-American men he would scout on the street and depict in poses seen in classical European artwork. The sitter for Judith was Triesha Lowe, a stay-at-home mother whom Wiley discovered in a Brooklyn shopping centre.
The description for the work from the North Carolina Museum of Art foundation reads: “Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”
Wiley's portrait of Obama will hang in the US National Portrait Gallery. It has already sparked conversation and criticism, but the sitter himself appeared pleased with his likeness, adding that Wiley's work “challenged our conventional views of power and privilege.”