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Chenoweth Lecture

November 7, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

It has been suggested that in today’s surveillance culture, anonymity is impossible. Moreover, privacy is a fallacy and conformity a lie. Just as every person’s face—like DNA or a thumbprint— is unique to themselves, portraiture makes everyone traceable. The truth of course is far more complex, as portraiture has historically served political agendas and projected societal aspirations that are often about “fitting in.” Rather than serving as a true record of individuality, portraiture has always been about interpretation and manipulation.

As Kim Sajet, director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, will discuss, there is no such thing as a historical portrait, and portraiture as a form of material culture cannot be counted on to show the “truth” of anyone’s appearance. An extension of the silhouette that captured people’s “profile,” today’s selfie-culture, and the endless forms of narcissism it promotes, asks us to meet each other at arms-length and with an open I/eye.

As the first woman to serve as director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Kim Sajet (pronounced Say-et) has been exploring new ways to place personal experience and creativity at the center of learning and civic awareness. Not just a place to see famous Americans, the museum explores identity as a social construct that has been shaped in equal measure by opportunity and ability, prejudice and fear. By taking a cross-disciplinary approach that merges the traditional forms of painting, sculpture, drawing and printmaking with poetry, installation art, video and performance, Sajet aims to bring history alive.

The Chenoweth lectures are endowed by Dr. Arthur I. Chenoweth as a memorial to his brother and parents. The purpose of the lectures is to encourage international understanding through the presentation of a variety of subjects by specialists in their fields.