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An Arts and Visual Arts podcast
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Episodes of PORTRAITS

Since it was founded over a long lunch in Boston in 1857, The Atlantic has featured presidents and poets, abolitionists and suffragists— men and women set on advancing The American Idea. This episode, Kim takes the magazine’s editor-in-chief, J
After having to destroy her family pictures during the Cultural Revolution in China, artist Hung Liu treasures old photographs all the more. In fact, they’re foundational to her work. She has described her portraits like a memorial site for peo
These last few weeks brought jolting discoveries at residential schools in Canada— unmarked grave sites thought to contain the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children who went missing. The news was a visceral reminder that systemic racism an
Dr. Ellen Stofan is a planetary geologist who has spent a lot of time looking up at the stars and thinking about life outside our planet. But in this episode, she talks with Kim about the portraits of some of her favorite earth dwellers. Among
The 1862 painting "Men of Progress" depicts a group of inventors credited with "altered the course of contemporary civilization.” Between them, they found more efficient ways to sew clothing, harvest crops and even send telegraph messages. In f
Phillis Wheatley was a literary superstar around the time of the American Revolutionary War— a distinction she notched up while writing in bondage. But she never wrote an account of her own experiences, and there are gaps in her story. The Gall
When the early photographer William Mumler developed his glass plates, he sometimes found a ghost had slipped into the picture. Was he a fraud? A medium? A grief counselor? Author and curator Peter Manseau explains how Mumler found himself at
Choreographer-in-Residence Dana Tai Soon Burgess traces his ‘hyphenated’ background— a journey that begins on a boat from Korea, disembarks at a Hawaiian pineapple plantation, meanders through Latino culture, and then arrives at a martial arts
Author Rick Atkinson brings to life two men who played outsized roles during the founding of the United States— one a rich slave trader, the other a pamphleteer who died penniless. They both stood for liberty and equality, but their stories ill
We look at the portraits on our money— the little history lessons we carry around in our pockets. But with such a limited array of people featured, what do our banknotes say about us? First up, curator Ellen Feingold takes us on a tour of our m
As the National Portrait Gallery works on its latest commission -- an official portrait of former President Donald Trump -- we take a spin through the ‘America’s Presidents’ exhibition. This episode draws back the curtain on earlier commissions
Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, draws back the curtain on the artwork that tells the story of the United States— from a presidential portrait with a shadow of scandal hanging over it, to a $3 bill featuring George Washingt
Operatic soprano Renée Fleming has been called ‘the people’s diva,’ performing at key moments in our nation’s story, like when she sang at ground zero after 9/11. For this special episode, she talks with Kim about how music can help us mourn, h
Born just two years after the abolition of slavery, Madam C.J. Walker built a business empire by marketing her homemade haircare formula to the black community. Along the way, she became the United States’ first female self-made millionaire. O
We look at a black and white photograph that encapsulates a very American story— about the magic that can happen when you throw together people from different backgrounds and languages and… beats. The concoction that resulted is known as Latin
The sitter was rapper LL Cool J. The artist was Kehinde Wiley, who's made a name for himself by portraying African American men and women in regal poses taken from art history. In this episode, LL Cool J recounts what happened when they met, a
As a portrait artist, Robert McCurdy has painted some of the most famous and visionary people of our time-- the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison. But first he tells them, "It's not about you." The goal, he says, is to create a photore
After 'walking away' from slavery, abolitionist Sojourner Truth chose her own name, told her own story at speaking engagements, and sued for her young son's freedom. (She won.) The Gallery’s senior historian, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, says there’s
It commands attention among the more sober portraits in the Presidents’ gallery, interrupting a room of men in dark suits with an explosion of green and gold. Chief curator Brandon Fortune recounts the tragic backstory behind this standout port
Ruben Salazar was one of the first Latinx journalists to rise through the ranks of a major U.S. newspaper. Initially, he was careful to avoid being pigeonholed as a reporter on minority issues, but eventually he became known for digging into st
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and film director Kasi Lemmons love Harriet Tubman, but they weren't in love with her portrait as an older woman in a heavy dark dress. Then Hayden got a call. See the photographs we talk about here: https:/
In the first of our ‘social distancing’ episodes, educator Briana Zavadil White takes us to stand in front of one of her favorite paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. It commemorates a brutal boxing match that was fought 100 years ago, b
Long before Coronavirus upended our lives, Will Rogers saw the United States through another difficult and divisive time. The good-humored cowboy is perhaps best remembered for his movies, but he was also a prolific social commentator who manag
Why was it so startling to find a photograph of Harriet Tubman as a young woman? Why did Elaine de Kooning stop painting after the assassination of John F. Kennedy? We offer a series of virtual visits to the National Portrait Gallery for all ou
Hugo Crosthwaite, winner of the 2019 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, traces his artistic influences to his parents' curio shop in Tijuana, where statues of Aztec gods co-existed with Bart Simpson. Fast-forward to his winning entry, and h
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