National Portrait Gallery Announces Winners of National Teen Portrait Competition

By Editorial Team on February 26, 2020

Grand Prize-winning Works To Be Displayed Alongside Museum’s Exhibition “The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today”

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced Chiemeka Offor of California and Sofia Gress of Florida as the grand-prize winners of the museum’s nationwide Teen Portrait Competition. Open to students between the ages of 13 and 17 residing in the U.S. and its territories, the competition yielded 15 finalists, with Offor and Gress taking home the top prizes. The museum received 629 eligible entries from 45 states; the rules for this edition specified that portraits must be in the medium of photography. The entries were reviewed by the Portrait Gallery’s Teen Museum Council, a group of 20 high school students from Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia who create interactive programs and events inspired by the Portrait Gallery’s collection. The Teen Museum Council’s objective is to increase teen engagement with the museum.

L: Showtime by Chiemeka Offor, digital image, 2019 (printed 2020). R: What I Am, What I Think by Sofia Gress, digital image, 2019 (printed 2020).

“From beginning to end, this competition was designed and managed by teens, for teens,” said Caitlin Blake, teen programs specialist at the National Portrait Gallery. “These 15 finalists, and all artists who submitted works, had remarkable things to say about their lives, experiences and perspectives. We are excited to now share some of those young voices with the Portrait Gallery’s audiences.”

Offor’s self-portrait, “Showtime,” won the category for ages 16–17. Her work tackles an issue the artist has confronted since childhood: the underrepresentation of people of color in art, media and entertainment. Gress won the category for ages 13–15 with a portrait entitled “What I Am, What I Think.” In this photograph of a young man wearing a crown of wilting flowers, Gress deconstructs societal expectations of masculinity. Megan Ocelnik (Michigan) and Jayson Rodriguez (Rhode Island) received honorable mentions. All 15 finalists explore identity through the eyes of teens in America today and address themes such as urban life, family, climate change, race and LGBTQ+ youth.

Offor and Gress’ grand prize-winning photographs will go on view in the Portrait Gallery this spring. They will be displayed near the exhibition “The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today,” which showcases portraits by finalists of the triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition who are 18 and older. Artwork by all 15 teen finalists will be featured on the Portrait Gallery’s website.

In concert with “The Outwin 2019,” the Teen Portrait Competition celebrates the art of contemporary portraiture. At the same time, this project “by teens, for teens” widens the lens to include the distinct viewpoints of young people across the U.S.

For more on the Teen Portrait Competition and the Portrait Gallery’s related programming, including teen-led tours and activities,

Teen Portrait Competition Finalists:
  • Chiemeka Offor, 11th grade, California*
  • Sofia Gress, 9th grade, Florida*
  • Megan Ocelnik, 12th grade, Michigan**
  • Jayson Rodriguez, 11th grade, Rhode Island**
  • Gabrielle Amarh, 9th grade, Illinois
  • Whitney Chung, 12th grade, Minnesota
  • Libby Eick, 10th grade, Virginia
  • Alex Kahn, 11th grade, Florida
  • Sunny Lu, 12th grade, Missouri
  • Liana Marks, 9th grade, Florida
  • Ellie Mitrani, 10th grade, Florida
  • Jasmine Ni, 10th grade, Massachusetts
  • Tilly Sandmeyer, 11th grade, Maryland
  • Adan Santamaria, 8th grade, California
  • Annie Trinh, 12th grade, Virginia

*Denotes grand prize winner
**Denotes honorable mention

(via Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Image: L: Showtime by Chiemeka Offor, digital image, 2019 (printed 2020). R: What I Am, What I Think by Sofia Gress, digital image, 2019 (printed 2020).)