National Portraiture Winners on View at The Ackland

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Amy Sherald talks about her work, part of a new exhibition of American portraits at The Ackland. Photo by Santul Nerkar

Walking into the newest exhibition at The Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, The Outwin: American Portraiture Today, feels like entering into a crowded room, even when there are no other visitors around. Vibrant eyes gaze back at you from portraits of American life, captured in painting, photography and sculpture.

The exhibit, on view from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, features the finalists of the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, and includes winner Amy Sherald’s “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance)” (2013.) Amy was selected by Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, unveiled in February 2018.

Amy helped open The Ackland exhibit on June 1 with a public discussion about modern portraiture in the age of the selfie and digitized personhood. She spoke about her portraits during a earlier tour of the exhibit. Her paintings are set in colorful, dream-like backgrounds, where her African-American subjects stand vibrantly dressed with monochromatic skin tones, ultimately serving to confront the psychological effects of stereotypical imagery on African-American subjects, she says.

Her goal is portraiture that is not simply there to be viewed and accessed, Amy said.

“She has walked away from the idea of being under somebody’s gaze. She is here to meet your gaze,” she said. “If anything, she is accessing you.”

The Ackland is the fourth and final stop for the exhibit, and the only stop in the Southeast.

“The Outwin: American Portraiture Today,” is on view at the Ackland till August 26. Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sundays 1pm-5pm More information is available at


Santul Nerkar contributed reporting to this article.

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Sam Bermas-Dawes

Sam is a summer intern at Durham, Chapel Hill and Chatham Magazine. He graduated American University in 2015, before serving a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in North Carolina. An enthusiastic procrastinator, Sam can usually be found on a soccer field, eating or in a movie theater avoiding the things he really, really should be doing.
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