BMA will unveil official Elijah Cummings portrait Dec. 21

Jerrell Gibbs, ‘I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It… Portrait of the Honorable Elijah Cummings,’ 2021. Courtesy of Jerrell Gibbs and Mariane Ibrahim

Jerrell Gibbs, ‘I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It… Portrait of the Honorable Elijah Cummings,’ 2021. Courtesy of Jerrell Gibbs and Mariane Ibrahim

BALTIMORE, Md. — Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced the forthcoming unveiling of the official portrait of Elijah E. Cummings will take place at the museum on December 21 during an intimate event that celebrates the beloved Congressman’s life and enduring advocacy for social justice.

The portrait was commissioned by Rockeymoore Cummings in March 2021 and painted by Jerrell Gibbs, a Baltimore-based artist recognized for his evocative portraits of Black life and identity. Gibbs was selected from a short list of three Baltimore-based artists that also included Monica Ikegwu and Ernest Shaw, following a multi-phase process led by Rockeymoore Cummings and a selection committee of BMA and local community leaders. The portrait, which serves to honor Cummings’ many achievements and unwavering commitment to his home city of Baltimore, will be on public view at the BMA from December 22 through January 9, 2022 before it is permanently installed in the U.S. Capitol. Additional details about the Washington, DC display will be announced at a later date.

“In life Elijah and I enjoyed supporting the diversity of artists and events hosted by the Baltimore Museum of Art. It is providence that I was able to bring Elijah’s official portrait to life in partnership with the BMA’s transformational leader Christopher Bedford and his team of world-class experts, as well as community arts leaders and wonderfully supportive donors,” said Rockeymoore Cummings. “We are exceedingly pleased with the result. Jerrell Gibbs is a masterfully expressive painter and his stunning portrait perfectly captures Elijah’s essence and majesty. It is a timeless masterpiece.”

Elijah E. Cummings was born in 1951 in a segregated Baltimore and grew up facing profound racism from white communities that brutally resisted integration. Despite the discouragement he faced when he was labeled special education in his early school years, Cummings graduated with honors from City College, Howard University, and the University of Maryland School of Law. He served for 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he became the first African American to be named speaker pro tem, before running for Congress in 1996. For more than two decades, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of the people of Maryland’s 7th congressional district, which includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County.

Cummings rose to become one of the most powerful and respected voices in Congress, championing social justice, fairness, and a democracy that serves all Americans. In 2019, he was appointed Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and leveraged the role to lead investigations into the administration of Donald Trump. Throughout his historic career, he remained committed to his home city and governed with a sensibility that acknowledged the incredibly negative effect that systemic racism and classism have on people’s lives. Following his death in October 2019, he became the first African American legislator to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, and he continues to be remembered for his profound influence on the contemporary fight for civil rights and the preservation of our democracy.

With his lifelong commitment to Baltimore, it was essential that his portrait be created by an artist that represented the rich cultural fabric of the city and, in particular, the incredible creative contributions of Black artists. To establish the selection process, Rockeymoore Cummings approached leadership at the BMA, where she served on the Board of Trustees from 2017 to 2019. Asma Naeem, The Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator at the BMA, led the curatorial process in collaboration with Christopher Bedford, Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director at the BMA, working with the selection committee and organizing the presentation of the portrait at the museum. The short-list of three finalists emerged from a broader list of more than 30 artists developed with support from Naeem; Carlyn Thomas, the BMA’s curatorial assistant for Contemporary art; and other members of the BMA curatorial and leadership team.

Jerrell Gibbs, ‘The Honorable Elijah Cummings Sketch,’ 2021. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2021.177

Jerrell Gibbs, ‘The Honorable Elijah Cummings Sketch,’ 2021. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2021.177

The selection committee was comprised of Rockeymoore Cummings, Bedford, Naeem, Jeffrey Kent, Lori N. Johnson, Lisa Harris Jones, Amy Frenkil Meadows, Troy Staton, and Kwame C. Webb. They conducted studio visits and reviewed preliminary sketches and portrait concepts presented by Gibbs, Ikegwu, and Shaw, before holding a discussion session and formal vote. As part of the commission, Gibbs received a $75,000 financial award. Additionally, the BMA acquired one preparatory work by each artist on the short list, marking the first acquisitions by Ikegwu and Shaw to enter the museum’s collection.

During the course of the past seven months, Rockeymoore Cummings collaborated with Gibbs on the creation of the Congressman’s portrait. The painting is inspired by Baltimore-based photographer Justin T. Gellerson’s image of Cummings, which is also featured on the cover for Cummings’s biography, We’re Better than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy. Gibbs’ portrait is a continuation of his exploration of the layers between memory, time, presence and absence, and the varying handling of paint on canvas.

“Working on a painting of such great importance meant so much to me. I am extremely honored to have been considered and selected to paint the official portrait of The Honorable Elijah Cummings,” said Gibbs. “A very special thank you to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Christopher Bedford, Asma Naeem, as well as the entire portrait committee. This experience has been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will forever cherish this monumental moment. I hope I made Elijah proud.”

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