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Museum visitors find strength in new Breonna Taylor portrait

The work is among 27 new pieces of art on display at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

WASHINGTON — Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) unveiled a new exhibit called, "Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience in American Art," which highlights the Black Lives Matter movement and recent social justice protests.

The exhibition documents the struggle that Black Americans have faced in their pursuit to enjoy the fundamental rights and freedoms that are promised in the Constitution as citizens of the United States, NMAAHC said.

"We're dealing with twin pandemics. One is the Black Lives Matter movement and the agency that people are having to address injustices," said Tuliza Fleming, Interim Chief Curator of Visual Arts at the NMAAHC. "And the other one is COVID, which has affected everyone in this country. We wanted to talk about how African American artists over the past hundred years have used their craft to protest, to defy and to show resilience in our culture and in our history."

"Strength," said one woman viewing the Breonna Taylor portrait for the first time. "She makes me stronger when I think of her. When I hear somebody say her name. Breonna Taylor. It just makes me realize how blessed I am."

The portrait of Breonna Taylor was painted by renowned artist Amy Sherald. Sherald was the same artist that painted the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

"Breonna must have been a strong woman because I can feel the fire and the energy coming from her picture," said another museum patron. "She's a beautiful Black woman. We've only seen (pictures of) her in her uniform. This is a portrait of elegance, grace and strength."

RELATED: Breonna Taylor's portrait on cover of Vanity Fair's September issue

In the portrait, Breonna Taylor is captured in a blue gown. The painting first appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair’s September 2020 issue.

Credit: NMAAHC
Breonna Taylor portrait at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

"I think it's such an important perspective," said a mother touring the museum with her daughter. "(Breonna) was more than just this tragedy, right? She was actually this human being. This person who had a life."

"It can be an overwhelming experience. People have cried going through. I've heard numerous cases of people welling up with emotion," said Fleming. "We want people to not only get a feel about our present, but about our past in the same exhibition.

The exhibit will feature 27 new pieces of art by acclaimed artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sheila Pree Bright, Bisa Butler, Shaun Leonardo, David Hammons and many more.

"Absolutely amazing. There's so much insight and so much I didn't know," said one museum guest.

"Seeing is learning and the more you read about it and the more you learn about it the more you will be able to understand as well as empathize with the movement," said a young woman who recently immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia. 

"We've come so far," said another woman. "And we still have a long way to go, but we're making strides."

“Visual artists have long evoked questions of beauty and history, and the Black painters, sculptors, photographers, and textile artists featured in this show exemplify the tradition of resilience in times of conflict and the ritual and even defiant pleasures of creation,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “The show continues to tell the story of the centrality of the Black experience found in the entire Museum, while also connecting to our current moment, filled with the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism and an ongoing renaissance of Black art and artistry.”  

“Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience” will be located on the fourth floor of the museum. 

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Visit the museum’s website for information about featured artwork and more at www.NMAAHC.si.edu/Reckoning. The public can join the online conversation using #NMAAHCReckoning on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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