There’s no right way to react to any piece of art — let alone to the official portrait of America’s first black president. So, it’s hardly surprising that Kehinde Wiley’s rendering of Barack Obama has been met with a set of responses as varied and eclectic as the painter’s own influences. Some, like New York’s Jerry Saltz, found Wiley’s decision to enmesh the president in a “highly colorful natural setting” gave his Obama “a mysteriously human presence.” Others felt the greenery denied Obama his due gravitas, or evoked a classic Simpsons joke.
And, apparently, a few, troubled right-wingers were too disgusted by the “secret sperm” all over Obama to have any opinion about the verdant background.
This Sean Hannity tweet (which has since be deleted) linked to this blog post by “Hannity Staff” (which has since been deleted).
The post argues that the president’s portrait is secretly perverted — and subtly hateful toward white people — on the basis of two sentences from a pair of years-old stories on Wiley’s work. The first comes from a 2008 New York Times profile of Wiley:
His 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.
Here, Wiley ostensibly observed that the swirling, abstract backgrounds he favors look a bit like sperm — not that they are intended as representations of semen.
The second quote comes from a New York Magazine interview with Wiley, published in 2012.
In a soaring studio on the outskirts of Beijing, where Kehinde Wiley came in 2006 to set up the first of his several global production outposts, the 35-year-old painter is showing off his women … one already stands out: a tall, elegant black woman in a long blue dress — the canvas is enormous, eight feet by ten feet — calmly staring down the viewer. In one hand, she holds a knife. In the other, a cleanly severed brunette female head. “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley says.
Ostensibly, the artist is saying that his piece is intended as a reflection on black rage — not as an exhortation for African-American women to decapitate as many white devils as they can.
Late Tuesday, Hannity released a statement saying, “Earlier today my web staff posted content that was not reviewed by me before publication. It does not reflect my voice and message and, therefore, I had it taken down.”
And yet, those two quotes would seem to more than meet the burden of proof that Fox News typically applies to stories about how Barack Obama (and/or, black artists he favored) degraded the office of the presidency. Thus, the mystery here isn’t why Sean Hannity tweeted his staff’s exposé on secret sperm, but rather, why he really chose to delete it.