Monday, February 18, 2019
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, portraiture makes everyone traceable. The truth of course is far more complex, asserts Kim Sajet, director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. 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.
Kim Sajet, director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, will discuss how portraiture has also always been about the melding the humanities with the sciences. A heathy spirit of inquiry into the history of innovation posits portraiture as a model for talking about politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, geography, and of course great design. Always political in nature, a historical portrait cannot illustrate the “truth” of someone’s appearance, let alone their accomplishments. Particularly in terms of selfie-culture and the endless forms of narcissism it promotes, all portraiture empowers individuals to attain a broad knowledge of the wider world as well as a healthy dose of skepticism about their surroundings. To paraphrase Picasso, “portraiture is a lie that illustrates the truth.”
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.
Ms. Sajet is the featured speaker for CMC’s 2019 Family Weekend.
Photo credit: Wenndy Concannan
Food for Thought: Podcast with Kim Sajet P'20