tv Amanpour on PBS PBS February 13, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PST
welcome to "amanpour" on pbs. tonight a portrait of the portrait painters. the artists who made history making the official pictures of america's first black president and his first lady. join me for an exclusive conversation. and my guests at the unveiling in washington's smithsonian museum. >> plus, a olympic efforts at nuclear diplomacy, as the the u.s. vice president hints that america is open to direct talks with north korea. >> investigative journalist sooki kim on pyongyang's real quest for gold.
>> announcer: "anpour"n pbs by the generous support of rosalynn p. walter. ♪ ♪ good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london with the global perspective. during the turbulent first year of the trump presidency his predecessor barack obama has kept traditional distance. speaking up only on matters of vital importance. calling out racism. supporting freedom of the press. but today the former president was back in the spotlight in washington. looking relaxed and happy unveiling his official portrait. the painting was done by an artist known for depicting ordinary people, usually, african-americans, and placing them in positions of power, using bold colors, and historical scenes. >> i want to say that it was a,
although, those, michelle always used to joke. i am not somebody who is a great subject. i don't like posing. i get impatient. i look at my watch. i think this must be done. one of those pictures must have worked. why is it taking so long? so, trying to take a picture of me much less painting a portrait. i will say that working with artist was a great joy all. ought picture is a mazing. former first lady, michelle obama chose amy cheryl to paint her portrait. making it the first time in history the president and first lady's portraits were painted by african-american artists. and that was no accident. wylee spoke of the power of the moment in history. >> it's color paste, hairy stick, nudging things to being. it is not.
this is consequence shall. this is who we as society decide to celebrate, our humanity, our ability to say "i matter. i was here." the ability to be the first african-american painter to paint the first african-american president of the united states is -- is absolutely overwhelming. [ applause ] it doesn't get any better than that. >> i can feel the pride and the emotion when i speoke to both artists from the smithsonian immediately following the unveiling. welcome both of you to the program. it has been an amazing day, what a great moment for you both. how did you feel when those portraits were unveiled? >> no word, really. for me, suspenseful.
waiting for the crowd's reaction. said it was insane. >> you know there is what you expect with the portrait like this. that sense of an exhibition. something that as artist weeart are used to. here dueling with it on a muscular scale, sense of the crowd, anticipation people feel with this level of personality that. that barack obama, michelle obama, it was absolutely extraordinary. >> what do you think? were you pleased with the reaction pleased with how the first lady and president greeted the amazing portportraits? >> yes, very much. he was really excited to see it. i was excited to have her see it. so to see the look on her face, when she saw it in person was wonderful. >> let's show a little bit about what michelle and the president said, particularly about your painting, am
>>ithin the first few sentences of the conversation, i kn she was the one. maybe it was moment she came in. she looked at barack and said, well, mr. president, i'm really excited to be here i've know i am be considered for both portraits. but mrs. obama, she physically turned to me, and she said, "i'm really hoping that you and i can work together." ha-ha. >> amy, i want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and the intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that i love. >> well i had to play those bites, because they're so funny. and it really sort of, lightens a very profound moment. so, let me ask you, amy, before i get to, the amazing representation. tell me about the dress. tell me about the pose. it is really dramatic the way you uh captured the first lady.
>> we went through a series of poses. when she landed on that one it just felt like the right one the i knew it immediately. but i think i photographed -- over 150 you know, different poses, some the same, over and over again. just figure out what worked. i think that pose kind of, she is contemplative. she is, she is -- just, just radiant in that photograph. and, the dress was stomething se also allowed me to have creative control over. when i saw the dress. i knew it was something that would work as well. the dress is almost like a painting in itself. so all that together. and wait that the cposition is -- is fd into kind of a triangle almost look a monument. is when i saw it. i knew that that's what, what the pose is going to be. >> so, you had an even, i don't know, is it a bigger task to capture the first black president of the united states? was it very, very, stressful,
trying to figure out how best to representative him? >> well, stressful wouldn't begin to say what this was. it was daunting on a level that i don't think i ever had to c contend with. here, much of my work was based on, people i meet in the streets. casually. rtraits things you see in rtr t great museums throughout the world. in this particular case, i am dealing with the leader of the free world. dealing with the president of the united states. and in that regard, all bets are off the table. he is a singularity. we don't go towards historical precedent, fashion how we picture him. i wanted to create something that was totally new and unique. part was sitting down with him and getting the terms of what he wanted in a painting. how he saw himself. and, you know, honestly he was
not one who felt really comfortable with the process. so much of this posing and picture taking has a lot to do with vanity, ego, self, positioning of the self in the world publicly. this man is, serious about being about the people. being, being in that place. so, that regard, i think that, some of the choices made, the casual nature of the dress for example. the sense in which there is no tie. that open, the body language. where he is sort of relaxed and, and open to the world. those are, little, little, nods, little signifiers, into how he thinks. how he chooses to possessie pos himself. how we can look at this painting alongside, historical examples of portraiture. >> they both break with tradition in a dramatic way. tell me about the flowers, what was the foliage about? was there, lookedikehe flowers and the person was sort
of struggling for prominence. but also sorts of different flowers. >> what you will find is the fact that you look at the lower portion of the painting, the vines and the flowers are sort of contending with the body in space for dominance. what is going on there is that sense in which we asked our self who is the star of the show in the painting? each one of the flowers points to his life story. so there is, elements of kenya in some of the flowers, flowers that come from hawaii, there are flowers that are of the state flag of illinois. really, sort of bouncing back and forth. decoratively towards element of his life. and telling, a story that, once decorative, personal and historical. >> so i want to ask you both. because you can't avoid it. this is two african-american artists painting the first african-american president and first lady. just that in itself, i don't
know how you top, that, really. amy, you are relative new come r to the world of public art. how did it feel for you? >> for me, you know -- it was something that i had never even dreamed of. and so, you know, to fiend mysef here it is just really unbelievable. it is, i don't, can't put it into words really yet. i feel look i am going to take some time, and look back on it. and just kind of, process everything that, that happened thus far. >> i wonder whether you think, you know, being, at this sh a long time that you are in a special moment now. and the fact that you two were chosen, and that you did this, is also political, not just artistic. >> i would say that everything that we do as artists is, imbibed with political content and import. but we can't not recognize the importance significance of representation in art. and the decision that this
president and first lady have made by choosing art igs ists l ourselves. there is an incredible responsibility in terms of how we choose to celebrate this moment. how they chose the to do this. in terms of what that means. they're signaling to the rest of the world that it is okay to, to occupy skin that happens to look like this. it is okay to see people who happen to look like us on the great walls of museums in the world. and in so doing, what i see there is true leadership. i see -- people who have -- the vision, and -- the -- the intent to be able to be not only great, great people, but great thought leaders. >> i just wanted to know, what you thought, to broaden it out a little bit. the black panther movie. how that is such an amazing reception. you know, i heard so many poignant interviews and
description as the but that film. people say we are simply never seen or haven't seen enough of us portrayed in this heroic form. >> well i think obviously both of us are dealing with popular culture. and its bleed intohe fhion decisions that are made in the paintings. the music that young people are listening. the sense of grace and character in the portraiture, wouldn't you say? >> i agree. it comes down to painting people's expectations of what they are going to see when they come into the museum, and what they would see when they go to, to, a movie theater like that. and i think, for us to be able to produce movies, about us and not have it labeled as a black movie is a thing. you know you have actors. who have crossed over. almost lost their blackness in a way. so, will smith, can, have a blockbuster movie. that everybody will go see. but its almost like he is not -- he is, he is, become something
bigger than himself. and i think that's what is important about representation. is that, you know, that, that -- these figures become ubiquitous. and what they think is universal. >> well, the making of images. the consuming of images. normalizes what we see as acceptable. museums choose to say this is the best of us. this is what we choose to celebrate as a society. the great films we nominate every year. as, as viewers. to be celebrated, say this is what we stand behind. and, at that time, that those voices and those people happen to inherit, bodies that look like ours, that is a moment where -- normally, it is excellence with black and brown body. an extraordinary time to be an artist working right now. >> my approach. similar. i walk into museums. i don't see myself. but i also when i begin this
body of work, looked around at the conversations that were happening amongst my coemporaries. and i saw for me, there was a gap in the, in the american art historical narrative of, images of black people, that were just being black. >> just wanted to ask you last year, lastly, amy, did you ever expect to be here doing this at this time. it wasn't so long ago. you were waiting tables. wasn't so long ago that you also had, you know, a life threatening heart condition that you had to have surgery for. it's not obvious. but you are sitting in front of us and having this unbelievable unveiling today. >> you know, i didn't see myself sitting here. exactly. but i did see myself where i am now in my career. >> and the president was sort of, joking, a little bit about, how he, you know, couldn't afford to be portrayed as the na
po poleon. >> his initial impulsen the was also elevate me and put me in settings with partridges and scepters an thrones and robes. and mounting me on horses. and i had to explain that i've got enough political problems without -- without you making me look like napole napoleon. we have got to bring it down just a touch. ha-ha. >> we, you know it is interesting. becausemmediately aft the president made that statement, i had to ce through and clarify, say, you know he was joking about this. barack obama has an incredible since of humor. he was able i think to key in on
some of the really comical aspects that exist in our history. so much of what my work does is echo the ego, the bravado that kp exists in british and french portraiture. some of the stuff looks interesting, juxtaposed on the streets of america and internationally. why people responded to the work. i half been known for her to fore. at president's portraiture had to take a different direction. i am proud of the direction of that we took. >> okay. listen, i am really grateful for you talking to us today. it is an amazing moment. congratulations to both of you. thank you so much indeed. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> well, as president obama was leaving office he warned president elect trump, that north korea would be the most urgent issue of his presidency.
and, with the pyeongchang winter olympics now well under way in south korea, new diplomacy has taken center stage. amid rare efforts at diplomatic reconciliation bedween ttween t koreas. the north sent 22 athletes and delegation that includes kim jong-un's younger sister the first member of the kim dine steep to vis -- dynasty to visit it south korea. she sat ten feet from vice president mike pence during the opening ceremony. they did not exchange greetings. can the games generate enough momentum to bring both side to the table? as pence had hinted. joing me from new rk to discuss this, journalism, author, soo-yi kim, went undercover posting as a christian missionary, teaching some of the sons of the miliary's elite there. soo-yi kim. welcome back. >> thank you for having me. >> given that background.
given that you do know some of the workings, see them on tv in north korea. what do you make of what its unfolding at the winter olympics in pyeongchang. especially the opening ceremony? >> it is just in a way not that different from how north korea behaved. you know, the last nuclear test was in september. missile test was november. after all of that war language between kim jong-un and trump. suddenly we have this really happy, two koreas together, propaganda. this whole olympic pr moment is almost what north korea is so good at. and, and, clearly, succeeding because when we are talking about the picks seems the whole world is talking about north korea and how in a way, attractive it has appeared on surface. i mean, starting from those
women, and also the, very elegant looking sister. >> you are talking about the cheerleaders and whole sort of ensemble that pyongyang has sent. clearly a lot of people including the united states have said, we mustn't allow this to become, a propaganda exercise that the north canse to hijack center stage. but, on the other hand, you know, the south korean president has the a lot at stake. and he is -- trying to, to gamble on, on a, as he called it. a peace olympics. don't you think that at least it is worth trying that? >> i think that, the south korean president -- that has always been his platform. his people are from north korea. and, this is -- his basis. his basis is, based on, pro north korea policy. very similar.
but what he has been aiming is actually not that different. you know, we have had that sunshine policy. all about, north korea. you know, over a dock aecade ag under the two presidents. and sort of a repeat of that. so, what, pushes, not surprising. yes, we need it. it is not, you know, the, the, antagonism between america and north korea have just gone to a pin the where we needed something with that. however, you know the way it is, it is sort of, played out at the olympics. this sort of false image of happy two koreas marching together under one flag. is complete false image. it is, total propaganda. >> let me ask you about what you call a totally false image. you have been inside, undercover, inside north korea. you also know south korea. when you say, how do you think the south korean people are, are reacting to this? and, obviously, potentially
there is a difference in generations, those who grew up with the war. and those who grew up and never knew about the war. >> absolutely. i think, it is manipulative. the two korea team. marching together. two koreas have not been, families have not been able to ever meet except for a very few hand picked ones that you see on the cover of, newspapers around the world. once every few years. other than those few families. no one has been able to keep in touch. not even a fen caphone call. not a letter. that generation died without ever meeting again. millions of koreans who got separated. the two governments who never manageme managed to make reconciliation. marching together at opening ceremony have anything to do with athletes. is completely misleading, you know, it's nothing. there is absolutely no substance to it. and, younger generation who has zero connection to north korea,
exempt basically north korea has been a trouble. that, you know, this, sort of a thug of a nation that threatens them. occasionally. bombs civilians. bombs south koreans, submarines. and, sort of, just neighbor, that has been causing troubles. suddenly took over the olympics. all of the attention. >> soo-yi kim, that's within of the reasons people want to bring them in. to persuade them to stop them from creating troub you are talking a. are you surprised, disappointed, or hopeful with the apparent sort of change in vice president mike pence's position. because they came, he came, talking about, maximum keeping up the sanctions. he did not greet kim jong-un's sister. and left and told the washington pest that the united states is not opposed to direct talks with north korea. is there a contradiction?
or is this the kind of diplomacy that has to be tried even by the united states? >> di policemplomacy has to be . the image we are getting has nothing to do with it. pence is acting unfriendly to north korea. at the ceremony. that has the nothing to do with the american position which is actually, pro dialogue at this point. also, the two korea yeahs look sowing happy together. that's not really true. that it is, you know, there are, there is literally no communication between the two. and, politically, they need each other. right now. and being pro engagement. and, he pushed to, this point. also, another thing. north korea, just, this is always what happened. they have done things. like do a nuclear test. the world rewards them with actually inviting them to the olympics. letting them take over the whole attention. >> clearly. >> whatever they're doing works. >> clearly there have been
right, critics of that. equally people who are terrified. it is this state of max much tension between north korea, the south and the rest of the world continues that could lead to a more dangerous situation. so, to that point, you know, you -- i don't know whether you dismiss policy, or whether you appreciate it. but, you can make the argument that the world was safer during the sunshine policy era. so my question to you is. are you surprised -- that -- that kim jong-un has used his sister as the a messenger to invite the south korean president to pyongyang? and -- what do you think might come of that. knowing what you know of the elites in pyongyang. >> okay. two things. and sunshine policy. you know, problematic policy. but the world has been a safer place. and, but, were the north koreans, citizens safer during then. because all of the powers want to the regime. because the they, they handed money over to -- to the north
korean regime. pretty much during that era. and another thing is, the sister being an ambassador taking over the olympics. her job, official title. director of propaganda of the worker's party. basically the sister. the family member who is the most trusted member of kim jong-un. her job is to sort of promote propaganda and kind of look elegant and pretty. although she is basically the member of the most murderous brutal family dictators in the world. so. >> do you think president moon getting an invitation to go there could, be a good start, very quickly, got about 30 second. >> well i think that's what is going to happen. if you look at history. kim jong-un, that's what happened. we are looking at, the time of engagement with north korea. that's the political agenda of him. i don't know how much that has
to do with actually the real, real north korea, who are hostages of that regime. >> soo-yi kim. thank you for joining us tonight. with your insights. of course, north korea, tensions there, the most important geopolitical crisis of our time. that is it for our program tonight. thanks for watching "amanpour" on pbs. and join us again tomorrow night. ♪ ♪ >> announcer: amanpour on pbs made possible by the generous support of rosalynn p. walter. ♪ ♪ >> aou: you're watching pbs. >> aou: you're watching
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