Art, biography, history and identity collide in this podcast from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Join Director Kim Sajet as she chats with artists, historians, and thought leaders about the big and small ways that portraits shape our world.
Self Made with Elle Johnson and Janine Sherman Barrois
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.
Our guests, Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson, helped bring Walker’s story to millions of viewers in the Netflix limited series, “Self Made.” They discuss Walker’s barrier-busting entrepreneurship, as well as her decision to use her own portrait as part of her brand.
See her trademark photograph here: https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2008.20
Bataan's Boogaloo with Eduardo Díaz
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 Boogaloo.
Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, explains how one of the genre’s pioneers, Joe Bataan, got his degree in ‘streetology’ and went on to establish himself as the King of Latin Soul.
See the photo we discuss on our website:
The Rockefeller Pose with LL Cool J and Richard Ormond
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, and why he turned to a 100-year-old masterpiece depicting the richest person in modern history-- John D. Rockefeller Sr.-- for his power pose. He also discusses how portraits can help build new paradigms in the face of systemic racism.
Stepping in to complete the picture, art historian Richard Ormond draws a line from a gilded age of luxury and elegance to a celebration of hip hop royalty.
See the paintings we discuss here:
Getting Real with Robert McCurdy
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 photorealistic image with no expression and no implied past or future, so the viewer and the subject can simply encounter one another. The true subject, he says, is the gaze.
See the portraits we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/robert-mccurdy-portraits
Seeing Truth with Gwendolyn Shaw
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 something else she took control of— her portrait.
You can see the carte de visite we discuss here: https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.79.209
Painting Through a President's Assassination, with Brandon Fortune
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 portrait of President John F. Kennedy by one of the few women who gained a foothold in the abstract expressionist movement— Elaine de Kooning.
You can see de Kooning’s remarkable painting on our website:
Customer ReviewsSee All
For a change of topics to something refreshing that will make you smile and learn
A podcast to smile and learn about art and history. Fresh, informative and reflective of the work of a great museum. Much needed in this sea of unsettling podcast about politics and society challenges.