National Portrait Gallery Announces Winner of the 2022 Director’s Essay Prize for Scholars in the Field of Portraiture

Tiffany E. Barber Receives $3,000 and Will Present Lecture in September 2022
June 8, 2022
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Woman stands with arms crossed in front of an abstract painting

Credit: Tiffany E. Barber. Photo by Jawara King

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced Tiffany E. Barber, Ph.D., assistant professor of Africana studies and art history at the University of Delaware, as the winner of the 2022 Director’s Essay Prize. Her essay “Narcissister, a Truly Kinky Artist,” published in Art Journal’s spring 2020 issue, was chosen for its interdisciplinary contributions to the fields of American art, biography, history and cultural identity. 

Founded in 2019, the Director’s Essay Prize fosters leading research in the field of visual biography and American portraiture. The 2022 Director’s Essay Prize was juried by PORTAL, the Portrait Gallery’s scholarly center. Its advisors include John Stauffer, Ph.D., Harvard University; Rebecca VanDiver, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University; and ShiPu Wang, Ph.D., University of California, Merced. 

“We were impressed by Barber’s groundbreaking analysis of Narcissister’s body of work,” the jurors said. “It is an immensely original essay, deeply researched and written with panache. We admired how Narcissister radically revises the ‘uses of the body’ in contemporary performance art by challenging, according to her text, ‘the reparative expectations of art, activism and multiculturalism in the post-civil rights era.’” 

Barber is an internationally recognized scholar, curator and critic whose writing and expert commentary has appeared in academic journals, media outlets and award-winning documentaries. Her work, which spans abstraction, dance, fashion, feminism, film and the ethics of representation, focuses on artists of the Black diaspora working in the United States and the broader Atlantic world. She has completed fellowships at ArtTable, the Delaware Art Museum, the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies and the Getty Research Institute, and she is currently a curator-in-residence at the Delaware Contemporary. 

“To be nominated for and awarded this prestigious prize for my Art Journal essay on Narcissister is a huge honor and a testament to the National Portrait Gallery’s commitment to expanding the boundaries of portraiture,” Barber said. “As a historian of contemporary Black diasporic art and performance, I’m thrilled to have my scholarship recognized in this way!”

Barber will present “Black Women’s Visual Alterity,” a paper related to her essay topic, at the prize ceremony Friday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m. in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and G streets, Washington, D.C. 

The Director’s Essay Prize complements the Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a triennial juried contemporary art exhibition established in 2006. The prize is specifically dedicated to supporting the next wave of written scholarship on portraiture.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story.            

The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., Washington, D.C. It is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Visitors enter and exit through the G Street entrance. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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Gabrielle Obusek

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Smithsonian Office of Educational Technology