Yamashita was the model for Chair, but this is not a self-portrait. "It could have been anyone," she says. "For me, poetry doesn’t exist in specificity." (Kumi Yamashita)
Profile (new version), by Kumi Yamashita. Wood and single light source. (Ryo Sekimura)
Maibaum, by Kristi Malakoff. Twenty black figures, black foam core and hardware (2009). (Kristi Malakoff)
John Quincy Adams, by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph, chalk and cut paper on paper (1841). (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.)
Titian and Rembrandt Peale, by Auguste Edouart. Ink, pencil and cut paper on paper (1842). (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.)
Thomas Sully, by Auguste Edouart. Ink, chalk and cut paper on paper (1843). (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr)
Josephine Clifton, by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph, chalk and cut paper on paper (1842). (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr)
Euphrasie Borghese, by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph and cut paper on paper (1841). (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr)

Artist Kumi Yamashita Creates an Amazing Human Figure Out of Shadow

Coming soon to the National Portrait Gallery, an old art form gets reinvented

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In the early 19th century, artisans created silhouettes of Americans of every social stratum, from enslaved people to presidents. These profiles, often cut from black cardstock and pasted against a contrasting background, could be made in minutes and duplicated easily for sharing. They represented “the democratization of portraiture” before photography took hold, says Asma Naeem, curator of a new exhibition of historical and contemporary silhouettes opening in May at the National Portrait Gallery. Three pieces are by Kumi Yamashita, who spent six months sketching and carving her wooden Chair (2015) so that a single light placed in exactly the right spot would create the shadow of a young woman sitting on the chair. The Japanese-born, New York-based artist has long worked with shadows, which “impart subtle qualities,” she says, and “reveal this extraordinary dimension where we see no borders, no races, no separation...only the essence of what we are.”

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

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