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Come see the work of Michelle Obama's official portraitist and more at the Ackland

Tim Okamura's "I Love Your Hair". Oil and mixed media on canvas, 2013. Okamura explores mixed media art to portray his love of hip-hop and create a sense of urban identity.
Tim Okamura's "I Love Your Hair". Oil and mixed media on canvas, 2013. Okamura explores mixed media art to portray his love of hip-hop and create a sense of urban identity.

The Ackland Art Museum is honored to be the final destination of a portraiture exhibition from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today represents winners from the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a triennial event that showcases contemporary art. The exhibition will run until August 26.

Museum patron Lisa Many said she came out to the exhibition to support the arts.

“We heard the winner was the same person who did Michelle Obama’s portrait,” Many said. “I think it’s pretty relevant, timely.”

Amy Sherald, the winner of the 2016 competition, was recently commissioned by Michelle Obama to paint her official portrait which hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

Her portrait featured in the Outwin exhibition titled “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance)” explores themes of feminine expectations for young African American girls. Sherald’s art is no stranger to the Ackland. Her first solo exhibition was featured at UNC’s Sonya Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History in 2011. Sherald returned to Chapel Hill for a press event on June 1.

“She exudes confidence and energy; it was wonderful to work with her," said Audrey Shore, the communications associate for the Ackland. "She’s very genuine and generous with her time.”

Peter Nisbet, the deputy director for curatorial affairs for the Ackland, said the museum felt lucky in that they had committed to present the exhibition before Amy Sherald won the commission to paint Michelle Obama as her official portraitist. 

“We were convinced of the quality of the exhibition long before that happened,” he said.

Dean Allison's “What would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?”. Cast glass, resin, and paint, 2014. Through Allison's work with glass, he explores the fragility of humans and studies the contrasts between internal and external features and their implications for the human existence.

The collection represents 43 different contemporary artists.

“I think a lot of (these artists) will rise to success,” Shore said. “Maybe not to the level of Amy Sherald, but for me, Tim Okurama stands out in particular, as well as Cynthia Henebry who finished in second place.”

Besides Okurama and Henerbry, other featured artists include Clarity Haynes, Rigoberto A. Gonzalez, Naoko Wowsugi and Sedrick Huckaby. These artists confront relevant themes such as shattering ideas of femininity, African American identity and immigration through their photography, paintings and multi-medium pieces.

“The artists are a representation of American and world culture as well as the arts,” Shore said. “To me, the exhibition is incredibly cohesive. Our layout of the show and the work that the curators did is fantastic. I think that each piece stands alone, but they all also work in concert.”

Nisbet encourages students to explore the collection before it returns to the Smithsonian.

“There are so many styles and approaches to portraiture, if you don’t like one, you can move on to the next,” he said. 

Nisbet said he thinks viewers will relate to the intimacy of the portraits. 

“I think there’s a lot to learn about human beings, about contemporary art, about identity, about social and gender roles,” he said. “I think students would really enjoy it, and I do urge them to come. There’s something for everybody.”

More information about this collection and other current exhibitions can be found on the museum’s website.

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Editor's note: This article originally stated that the Outwin exhibition featured 44 contemporary artists. The collection actually features 43 different artists. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.