Watch: Atlanta students featured in documentary on Obama portraits

Atlanta middle school students get the spotlight in a new Smithsonian Channel documentary about the Barack and Michelle Obama portraits.

Filmmakers visited Howard Middle School when the Obama portraits were on display at the High Museum of Art from January through March.

Cameras captured art students creating their own self-portraits using techniques inspired by both Kehinde Wiley’s painting of the former president and Columbus native Amy Sherald’s painting of the former first lady. Then, they show the students visiting the museum to see them firsthand.

Watch a clip from "Picturing the Obamas"

When the paintings were first unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2018, they generated a surge of visitors eager to view them, leading to a national tour.

The Smithsonian documentary, titled “Picturing the Obamas,” premiered earlier this month and chronicles how different cities that hosted the portraits responded to the art and the Obamas’ legacy.

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All fifth grade students in Atlanta Public Schools, plus students from Howard, visited the High Museum when the portraits were in Atlanta, according to a district statement. The field trips were supported by the Zeist Foundation, the district said.

A clip of the documentary released by APS includes interviews of Howard art students and officials from the Atlanta University Center and the museum.

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

In the segment, Howard’s art teacher, Mandy Lebowitz, discusses the significance of the paintings and the opportunity for her students to see them in person.

“There is nothing like the whole entire experience of walking through a gallery space,” she says in the footage.

Students marvel at the portraits and speak with pride about painting their own portraits.

“I like that it doesn’t have to be perfect and I want them to see what kind of person I am,” Howard Middle School student Sheena Hawkins says of her self-portrait.

Two episodes of the documentary are available for online streaming.