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Trump Satirizes Kehinde Wiley’s Obama Portrait to Fundraise 2020 Reelection Bid

The president’s action committee is selling the shirt, labeled “SPY” through its gift shop for $28.00. It also comes as a tank top.

Screenshot by author

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has announced that it’s raised $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, outpacing the leading Democrat Bernie Sanders by nearly $12 million.

A portion of that money comes from the president’s online gift shop, which sells MAGA merchandise including “no collusion” coffee mugs and “witch hunt” beer cozies.

But a new addition to the online web store has raised eyebrows in the art world: Trump has appropriated Kehinde Wiley’s official portrait of Barack Obama for a satirical T-shirt depicting the 44th president spying on the current commander-in-chief through the bushes. The shirt, which sells for $28.00 is described by the website as such:

SPY GAMES!
We can’t let Democrats and their cronies in the Fake News cover up corruption in the SWAMP!
We must FIGHT BACK and GET ANSWERS. Get your LIMITED EDITION “I Spy Trump” Tee NOW!
–Wiretapping not included.
–Limited Edition. While supplies last.
–Proudly Made in USA

The garment also implores viewers to text “SPY” to 88022, a phone number connected with the marketing arm of Trump’s election campaign. (In 2016, the president’s principal campaign committee was sued in a class-action complaint for sending unsolicited text messages from the number.)

The store is run by Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which has recently made headlines for attracting a substantial base of small donors. According to a report by OpenSecrets, the Republican’s campaign directly drew $3.3 million from donors giving less than $200 while the MAGA Committee received $17.4 million in small-dollar contributions in the first quarter of 2019.

Screenshot by author

Wiley’s original portrait of Obama features the former US leader sitting in an ornately-detailed chair in the foreground of a bush filled with flowers symbolizing the Hawaii native’s roots to his home state, Chicago, and Kenya. The painting was revealed at the National Portrait Gallery in February 2018 alongside Amy Sherald’s lauded rendition Michelle Obama. Together, the portraits brought record traffic to the museum with more than 176,700 visitors that month.

Trump’s mocking use of the Obama portrait might be the most biting political appropriation of Wiley’s work, but it’s certainly not the first time critics have used the painting for meme fodder. In fact, there’s evidence that the shirt’s spy design comes from last year’s deluge of social media posts parodying the portrait. The rightwing website WorldNetDaily posted a near-identical image in a roundup of memes last year.

Screenshot by author
The shirt also has a tank top version (screenshot by author)

The artist’s studio has declined to comment on the shirt’s sale.

At the time of this article’s publication, Trump’s reelection campaign has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment regarding whether or not staffers asked the artist or the former president for permission to use the artwork for the shirt.

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