Michelle Obama hosts foreign dignitaries, calls Harlem a cultural gem

by Meghan Barr
Associated Press Writer

 NEW YORK (AP) — Michelle Obama hosted a luncheon for the spouses of foreign dignitaries Tuesday in Harlem, a historic New York City neighborhood she calls a “quintessentially American” cultural gem.

The first lady spoke to about 50 spouses of chiefs of state and heads of government who are attending the UN General Assembly.

“There’s a reason why I wanted to bring you all to Harlem today,” Obama said at The Studio Museum in Harlem. “And that is because this community … is infused with a kind of energy and passion that is quintessentially American, but that has also touched so many people around the world.”

She pointed to Harlem’s place in the early 20th century as the heart of black culture in the U.S.

“This neighborhood drew some of the greatest African-American artists that our country has ever known: painters like Aaron Douglas; writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston; musicians like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington,” she said.

“Many of these men and women left the South just a couple of generations after the end of slavery, and they were desperate to find a place where they could explore their talents and express their ideas freely. This moment in history came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.”

She also encouraged the group to share ideas about how they are improving the lives of girls and women in their own countries.


Michelle Obama, left, greets Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, wife of Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, during a luncheon at The Studio Museum of Harlem. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

The group toured the museum, which houses about 2,000 works from about 450 artists, the earliest work from 1804 and the most recent from 2013.

They dined in the main gallery surrounded by life-sized paintings of African-American women created by Houston-based artist Robert Pruitt. Made from crayon and charcoal on butcher paper, the paintings depict black women in his Texas neighborhood and incorporate elements of science fiction and hip-hop culture.

The lunch was provided by Red Rooster, a well-known soul food restaurant in Harlem, and included shrimp and rice and a salad with cornbread croutons.

The museum was founded in 1968 in a loft farther north in Harlem and moved to its current space, a former bank, in the 1980s.

Three emerging artists in residence of African or Latino descent occupy studios inside the museum.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, greets Valerie Trierweiler, domestic partner of French President Francois Hollande, during a luncheon at The Studio Museum of Harlem. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

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