The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery honors a group of stellar global leaders with its recent unveiling of “Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees.” The current group includes José Andrés, Clive Davis, Ava DuVernay, Marian Wright Edelman, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. The exhibition premieres six newly commissioned works and one never-before-shown photograph, each by a highly acclaimed contemporary artist. “Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees” will be on view in the museum until Oct. 22, 2023. Admission is free.
A Different View of Media Personalities
Artist Hugo Crosthwaite commissioned Fauci’s portrait. Crosthwaite’s artwork is composed of a stop-motion drawing animation and a suite of 19 pencil-like drawings on paper, seven of which are on view in this exhibition. Crosthwaite captured milestones in Fauci’s public health career.
“Hugo Crosthwaite is an extraordinary, unusual, but awesome artist who did a living portrait of me. “He took frames and made it into a video. It was something I had never experienced before,” Fauci said in a one-on-one conversation before the Portrait of a Nation Gala. “It’s as much about the era as it is about me as a person.”
The portraits of tennis champions and entrepreneurs Venus and Serena Williams were created separately by New York-based artists Robert Pruitt and Toyin Ojih Odutola, respectively. The Williams sisters have close ties to the District through their support of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8.
“From the start, she wanted to be very collaborative. A lot of what went in it came out of conversations with her,” Pruitt said on his approach to the portrait of Venus. “There is a lot of stuff represented, like her family, personal history, and her history as an athlete. It took about two months to finish.”
Odutola intentionally conveyed a specific message about Serena in her approach to the portrait.
“I was very cognizant of the unfair views that have often been put on her throughout her career,” Odutola said about Serena. “I wanted to lean into the grace of Serena. I wanted to lean into her abundance of beauty and happiness. It was exciting for me to portray someone at ease.”
Advocate for Equal Justice Stands Strong Among Portraits
Marian Wright Edelman, another 2022 honoree, was portrayed in a black and white photograph by Colombia-born artist Ruven Afanador. A District resident, Edelman is the founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund. In her photo, Edelman wears two pendants with images of women who have been powerful freedom fighters in American history.
“Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth are my sheroes. They had extraordinary courage and did what they had to do to free themselves and others,” Edelman said. “When I think I’m having a bad day, I think about their days and challenges, and I get up and keep going.”
Edelman was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. During her time as director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Miss., she and other lawyers from around the country defended civil rights workers jailed in the south. Currently, Edelman writes commentaries that appear in the Washington Informer.
A Stellar Group Worthy of Recognition
The remaining “Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees and their artists include Andres and his painting by Kadir Nelson titled “José Andrés and the Olla de Barro that Feeds the World,” portraying the renowned culinary entrepreneur and humanitarian. Davis, the award-winning producer and music industry executive, is represented by a rare commission by British artist David Hockney, who has only taken on one other painting commission during his accomplished career. The acrylic-on-canvas portrait of Davis is the first Hockney painting to enter the Portrait Gallery’s collection. A new work on paper by the California-based artist Kenturah Davis features an intricate depiction of filmmaker DuVernay, whose interest in moving images and writing is highlighted through the artist’s stamping technique.
With the exhibition on view until October 2023, there is plenty of time for families to visit “Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees. Edelman captured the importance of this exhibition.
“I am deeply honored to be one of this year’s Portrait of a Nation honorees,” Edelman said. “I hope the portraits of my fellow honorees and me will remind children they can be and achieve anything with hard work, faith and perseverance.”
Go to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website (https://npg.si.edu) to learn more.