On November 12, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and its Director Kim Sajet welcomed more than 750 entertainers and luminaries from across the country to Washington, D.C., for the 2022 Portrait of a Nation Gala.
“This year’s Portrait of a Nation Gala strengthens our commitment to contemporary portraiture,” Sajet said. “We collaborate with contemporary artists to illuminate the history unfolding around us while also looking back at the changemakers who came before. Portraiture is both the past and present, contemplative and motivating, traditional and avant-garde, and we encourage everyone looking at the portraits of this year’s honorees to reflect on how they might see history and want themselves to be seen.”
On the red carpet event, seven honorees received the museum’s Portrait of a Nation Award for their wide-ranging transformative contributions to the United States and its citizens. This year’s ceremony was hosted by Baratunde Thurston, and the honorees included Marian Wright Edelman, Ava DuVernay, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Jośe Andrés, Clive Davis, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. Award presentations were made by Laurene Powell Jobs, Alicia Keys, Isabel Wilkerson, Hillary Rodham Clinton, David M. Rubenstein, Mellody Hobson, Sonya Haffey and Isha Price.
During the evening, guests were able to experience a private viewing of the Portrait of a Nation: 2022 Honorees, curated by Rhea L. Combs, director of curatorial affairs, in collaboration with Taína Caragol, curator of painting, sculpture and Latinx art and history, and Leslie Ureña, curator of photographs. On view were six newly commissioned portraits and one never-before-seen photograph by contemporary artists Hugo Crosthwaite, Kenturah Davis, David Hockney, Kadir Nelson, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Robert Pruitt, and Ruven Afanador, who was responsible for the beautiful portrait of Edelman. The image was originally commissioned by ESSENCE.
“The National Portrait Gallery always knew we wanted to honor Marian Wright Edelman,” Combs said. “What she’s done for the most vulnerable, particularly children with her work with the Children’s Defense Fund, was not only visionary and vital but has made a lasting impact on generations. We wanted a portrait that represented her cultural and social significance. The portrait of Eldeman by Ruven Afandor not only presents her as the regal and dynamic woman she is, but it also features women who also saw it their duty to speak and fight for others, as seen through the locket worn by Edelman of Sojourner Truth and Harrett Tubman—individuals also in the museum’s collection.”
“Curators were familiar with Afandor’s women of civil rights series he’d done for Essence and reached out to him,” she added. “He showed us what was published but also shared other images from the shoot. We immediately felt a kinship with this image. This is the first time it will be shared with the public.”
Take a look at the photos from the 2022 Portrait of a Nation ceremony below.