Every two years, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery honors a group of luminaries who’ve made major contributions to the U.S. by enlisting esteemed artists to create their portraits. The results not only help grow the museum’s collection of 23,000 artworks “in a way that recognizes the diversity of the country,” director Kim Sajet says, but also taps into the creative vitality of “dynamic artists who are pushing the boundaries of what portraiture can be.” This year’s honorees are no exception: chef and humanitarian José Andrés, music mogul Clive Davis, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, physician-scientist Anthony Fauci, and tennis trailblazers Venus and Serena Williams.
DuVernay and the Williams sisters each collaborated with an up-and-coming Black artist to spellbinding results. Serena Williams set her sights on Toyin Ojih Odutola, the Nigerian-born artist whose charcoal drawings explore identity. Ojih Odutola rendered Serena—who recently announced her evolution away from tennis—in a moment of unbridled joy, grinning and enveloped by foliage.