Kamala Harris Portrait Draws Inspiration From the Glass Ceiling She Shattered

Artist Simon Berger created the unconventional likeness of the vice president in just one day

Glass portrait of Kamala Harris
Artist Simon Berger created the portrait by strategically hammering cracks into a pane of glass. Photo by Shannon Finney / Getty Images for National Women's History Museum & Chief

On January 20, Vice President Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first woman, first black woman and first woman of South Asian heritage (not to mention the first graduate of a Historically Black College and University, or HBCU) to hold the United States’ second-highest office.

Now, a stunning portrait of Harris is honoring the vice president’s accomplishments by referencing the metaphorical glass ceiling she broke. As Darlene Superville reports for the Associated Press (AP), Swiss artist Simon Berger created the approximately 6- by 6-foot, 350-pound artwork by strategically hammering cracks into a giant sheet of glass.

The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) and Chief, a private network for female entrepreneurs, co-funded the project. Most recently displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the portrait is now at Chief’s New York offices, with plans for future public viewing still to be determined.

Speaking with the AP, Holly Hotchner, NWHM’s president and CEO, says, “This will just be a wonderful visual emblem of this moment in time and hopefully people will reflect a little bit on all the barriers that have been broken by her election.”

Berger’s installation—based on a portrait of the vice president by photographer Celeste Sloman—shows Harris looking up, her facial features delicately rendered through thousands of white, spider web-like glass cracks that stand in stark contrast to the black pane’s background. Per Washingtonian’s Hannah Good and Evy Mages, Berger used Sloman’s photo to draw Harris’ likeness on a laminated glass sheet. Then, he tapped a hammer against the glass to create the complex network of cracks.

“I like creating beautiful things through destruction,” Berger tells Artnet News’ Sarah Cascone. “I am pleased and proud to be able to make a contribution in this matter.”

According to Art Insider’s Maggie Cai and Hailey Gavin, Berger developed his unusual artistic style through several years of trial and error. He now knows exactly how many times to hit the glass to create the depth he wants, and how hard to strike to avoid shattering the entire pane—a costly mistake that still happens occasionally.

“I’m using a lot of glass,” Berger told Art Insider last April. “But every now and again one turns out good, and that’s satisfying.”

Glass Ceiling Breaker

A short film of Berger creating the Harris artwork accompanies the installation. (The artist, working at his studio in Niederönz, crafted the piece in just one day, reports the AP.) Set to Harris’ victory speech, the video pays homage to other women who have broken political barriers, including the first female Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; and the first female secretary of state, Madeline Albright.

“We hope that women—of all ages and backgrounds—will see their own strength and potential reflected in the portrait of our first woman vice president,” says Amani Duncan, president of BBH New York, the creative agency that coordinated the project, in a statement. “This incredible work of art featuring interactive elements is a rallying moment for all organizations to work together to advance gender equity and address the issues facing women and other marginalized genders.”

Born in California in 1964, Harris—the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants—has shattered a number of glass ceilings over the course of her career. In 2004, she became the first woman and first African American elected as San Francisco’s district attorney; in 2016, she became the first African American to represent California in the United States Senate. Now, she’s broken yet another barrier as the first woman of color vice president.

“It used to be a woman couldn’t vote and women couldn’t do a lot of things,” Alani, a 10-year-old who celebrated her birthday last week with a visit to the artwork, tells Washingtonian. “But now, she’s starting a generation, a new generation, where a woman can do anything.”

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