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When Ends Meet
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Oprah Winfrey flashes her billion dollar smile and Condoleezza Rice has a sparkle in her eyes in this dazzling portrait by Mickalene Thomas.

It’s no mystery why Mickalene Thomas, portraitist of influential Black women like Michelle Obama, Whoopi Goldberg, and Naomi Campbell, chose to portray media mogul Oprah Winfrey and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. By placing these two African-American women from different backgrounds on the same canvas, Thomas highlights how both overcame adversity to become successful Black women in the white man’s world.

These two women are definitely opposites. Rice is known for her serious demeanor while Oprah is known for her beaming smile. Raised in rural Mississippi by her grandmother, Oprah knew little else than poverty and sexual abuse before making her way onto our TV screens. Rice grew up on the campus of Stillman University where her father was dean before making her way into the White House. Rice worked for President Bush, and Oprah endorsed President Obama. As Condoleezza Rice handled America’s foreign affairs, Oprah focused on what was happening within American culture.

Everybody knows Oprah. How could you not? From the big screen to one of the longest-running talk shows in television history to magazines your mother read while waiting in line at the supermarket, the “Queen of All Media” really has done it all. With a net worth of $2.7 billion, Oprah is one of two Black woman in the world on Forbes' Billionaire list. What catapulted Oprah to fame was her self-titled talk show turned therapy session. Our beloved host popularized the confessional style show and promoted self-help. She talked about her own personal issues and cried with her audience right before giving them all cars. Oprah didn’t just revolutionize television. She changed how people communicate.

Nicknamed the “Warrior Princess," Condoleezza Rice left her position at Stanford as a political science professor to work for the Bush Administration. She had previously worked for Bush’s father as director of Soviet and Eastern European affairs. As the first female National Security advisor and first female African-American Secretary of State, she played a major role in suspending North Korean use of nuclear warfare and sending U.S troops to Iraq. Her Transformational Diplomacy policy focused on expanding democratic governments worldwide. These days she’s back to teaching at Stanford and, weirdly enough, she’s also on the board of directors for Dropbox. She is considered one of the world’s most powerful women.

Despite being extremely different from each other, both Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey became notable African-American women with significant influence on the American people. What better way to highlight that than through sparkles? Thomas’ use of rhinestones in this portrait doesn’t just make it sparkly. By making a dazzling portrait of Black women that isn’t hyper-sexualized or exoticized, Thomas addresses the history of Black female bodies. She reminds us that, no matter their background, Black women often endure adversity on their way to success and that we should celebrate their achievements as much as possible.

Sources

Sources

  1. National Portrait Gallery, Portrait of a Nation: Men and Women Who Have Shaped America (Washington, D.C; Smithsonian, 2015), 294.
  2. Kitty Kelley, Oprah, a Biography, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010).
  3. Ebony Horton, “Stillman College Educators Recalls Rice’s Ties to Town”, Tuscaloosa News, December 2004.
  4. Ebony Horton, “Stillman College Educators Recalls Rice’s Ties to Town”, Tuscaloosa News, December 2004. http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/news/20041206/stillman-college-educators-r...
  5. Freakonomics, “So Much for One Person One Vote”, Freakonomics, August 6, 2008
  6. Deborah Tannen, “Oprah Winfrey. The TV Host”, Time Magazine, June 8, 1998
  7. Margaret Wente, “Condi Rice, Warrior Princess”, The Globe and Mail, April 6, 2004
  8. “Biographies of the Secretaries of the State: Condoleezza Rice”, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/rice-condoleezza
  9. Tatiana Serafin, “Condoleezza Rice”, Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml
  10. Julia Skelly, Radical Decadence: Excess in Contemporary Feminist Textiles and Craft (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 63-64.